The Torii Hunter Situation

I noticed in the Star Tribune yesterday that Torii Hunter, the Twins’ highest paid player, "has expressed doubts the team will pick up his $12MM option for 2007."  The Twins have the option of buying the option out for $2MM. 

Hunter is, of course, only the highest-paid Twin in 2006 because the club backloaded Johan Santana‘s four-year deal.  Santana will make $9MM in ’06, $12MM in ’07, and $13.25MM in ’08.  Without doing any research whatsoever, I’m guessing the last two years of Santana’s deal will be Twins records for salaries.

Tough to say whether the Twins will keep Hunter around for $12MM or pay $2MM to be off the hook.  Will Hunter be worth that much money when he enters his age 31 season in 2007?  Baseball Prospectus says no, valuing him at just $4,575,000 for that year.  In fact, they think he’s only going to be worth $12MM for all of 2006-10. 

However, their numbers don’t really take into account the center fielder market for the 2006-07 offseason.  Jim Edmonds will be available if Walt Jocketty chooses his $3MM buyout over his $10MM salary (doubtful, since Edmonds actually will be worth ten mil in ’07).  Mike Cameron would be available if the Padres buy out his $7MM option.  Juan Pierre, Kenny Lofton, Preston Wilson (three-year club option), Jay Payton, and Dave Roberts can all be free agents if they aren’t signed to extensions.

Edmonds and Pierre figure to be out of the Twins’ range, so if they let Hunter go they’ll probably go for a second-tier option like Payton or Roberts.  Which, in my opinion, would actually be the ideal move.

With their pitching staff and some mild offensive upgrades, the Twins are unlikely to fall out of contention before the trading deadline.  So I would imagine that Hunter stays put.  Terry Ryan does have some salary dumps to his credit: Rick Aguilera, Scott Erickson, and Kevin Tapani in 1995, Dave Hollins in 1996 (for David Ortiz!), and Roberto Kelly in 1997.  (Source: Will Young at Baseball Think Factory).

The salary dumps, however, were before the Twins started competing.  Ryan would probably be killed by Twins fans if the team is in the hunt this summer and he trades Hunter for prospects.  Still, a desperate Bill Stoneman or Jim Bowden could make Ryan an offer he can’t refuse.  It’s a longshot, but I can envision a scenario in which Darin Erstad gets hurt and the team doesn’t want to throw Chone Figgins or Juan Rivera out there.       

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