The Rangers are the early favorite to sign 32 year-old center fielder Torii Hunter for several reasons.
First off, Hunter and his family live just 47 miles away from The Ballpark In Arlington. Sometimes the whole hometown team thing is overrated when predicting where free agents will land, but Hunter has basically said that the Rangers have an advantage and it’s what his family wants.
Second, the Rangers have vacancy. Brad Wilkerson will be gone and Kenny Lofton already is. Sammy Sosa could assume a lesser role or none at all. The Rangers do have some interesting internal candidates for center field in Marlon Byrd and David Murphy, but they might be better suited as fourth outfielders.
Third, the Rangers can probably afford Hunter even with his bare minimum 5/75 demand. My back of the napkin math has the net change to payroll as about $13MM off the books. There are small gains for Millwood, Padilla, Blalock, Catalanotto, and arbitration-eligible guys, but good money off the books for Teixeira, Gagne, Wilkerson, Lofton, and Sosa. The Rangers have held at a $68MM Opening Day payroll for the last two seasons but Tom Hicks has had it up past $100MM before.
So with Hunter the Rangers could have a $70MM payroll (or less if they backload his contract). But it gets better: if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, the Rangers gain $8.1MM in ’08, $7.1MM in ’09, and $6.1MM in ’10. It’s certainly easier to envision Hunter in a Rangers uniform if A-Rod opts out.