Can the Twins sign Torii Hunter?

Hunter has indicated that if he wasn't signed by the start of the season, he would become a free agent following the season. However, can the Twins afford to sign him?

Torii Hunter has been clear, if he wasn't signed before the season began he would become a free agent following this season. He also has indicated a preference to remain with the Twins and that he would like to end his career playing in a new stadium in Minnesota. Therefore, the Twins will likely talk to Hunter's agent following the season and a new deal with the Twins is certainly possible.

But the question that Terry Ryan must address before he begins any talks with Hunter is whether or not he can fit Torii into the Twins budget in 2008, 2009 and beyond. There are other concerns such as who will be the center fielder on a contending team should Hunter not return, however, his first concern will be keeping his nucleus of younger stars.

We certainly don't know what the Twins budget will be in 2008 and 2009, however, it has been going up about $5,000,000 annually. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the budget in 2008 will be around $75,000,000 and likely raise to $80,000,000+ in 2009. It is to early to guess what the budget will be once the stadium is completed in 2010, therefore, the next two years are the critical years for the Twins regarding contract extensions for their current players.

The Twins currently have $30,900,000 committed for next season, not including an option they hold on Rondell White at $3,500,000. The seven players under contract include Johann Santana ($13,250,000), Joe Nathan ($6,000,000), Jesse Crain ($1,050,000), Dennys Reyes ($1,000,000), Joe Mauer ($6,250,000), Mike Redmond ($950,000), and Nick Punto ($2,400,000). They have indicated that their priority before spring training 2008 is to sign Santana and Nathan to extensions and to sign Morneau and Cuddyer to long term contracts.

Assuming that the Twins sign Justin Morneau to a contract on terms similar to Mauer, he would make around $6,500,000 next season. Michael Cuddyer is also due another raise to at least $5,000,000. Jason Bartlett will not be eligible for arbitration which will put him around $500,000. Alexi Casilla should be their second baseman at the minimum which will be nearly $400,000. They will keep two reserve infielders such as Rodriguez and Machado who also would be at $400,000. They will also have at least one veteran reserve infielder such as Jeff Cirillo, who would be at $2,000,000 or more. Jason Kubel will earn a nice raise to at least $1,500,000, as he will be eligible for arbitration while either Jason Tyner or Lew Ford will earn at least $1,000,000. That leaves two spots for everyday players, most likely outfielders unless the team again carries three catchers. Assuming Denard Span joins the team next year, he would be at the minimum $400,000. The final spot could certainly be Rondell White if the Twins exercise his option at $3,500,000.

Because the Twins will not know the status of Liriano until next spring the starting pitching staff will likely include one veteran pitcher from this year's staff, most likely whomever pitches best from the trio of Carlos Silva, Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson who would earn at least $5,000,000 in 2008. Boof Bonser should earn at least $500,000 next season and two rookies from the trio of Garza, Perkins and Slowey could be in the rotation if Liriano isn't ready. They would each be paid the $400,000 minimum. In addition, they will be paying Liriano an estimated $450,000 next season whether or not he is pitching for the Twins while Juan Rincon will get a raise to at least $2,500,000. Matt Guerrier will be eligible for arbitration next season, thus it is likely he will be replaced by someone from the minors who would be at the minimum. Add Pat Neshek at an estimated $450,000 and you have a roster with a similar makeup to this season, less Hunter, with a total payroll estimated at $62,600,000. Assuming their budget increases to at least $75,000,000, the Twins certainly would have room to pay Hunter at least $12,000,000 next season and more if he replaces Rondell White.

But Mr. Ryan must look further into the future and answer the question of whether he can afford Hunter in 2009. Assuming the Twins are successful in resigning Santana, he will likely make $20,000,000 in 2009. Liriano will be eligible for arbitration and assuming he recovers from his injury would earn at least $4,000,000. The veteran from this year will likely be gone and Bonser, who may be eligible for arbitration as a super two, would earn at least $1,500,000. The final two starters would be from the group of Garza, Perkins and Slowey with each earning around $500,000.

If Joe Nathan resigns, he will make at least $9,000,000 in 2009 with Crain's raise slotted at $1,700,000. Rincon would be in his free agent year, thus he would earn at least $4,000,000 which may be a bit pricey for a set-up man. The remaining bullpen could include Reyes or another lefty at $1,000,000 and Neshek at $500,000 with another young reliever at around $425,000.

Mauer will earn $10,500,000 in 2009 and we must assume Morneau's contract would have him at a similar amount. Mike Redmond stays at $950,000 in 2009 while Jason Bartlett will be in his first year of arbitration, thus will make at least $3,000,000. Include Cuddyer at $6,500,000 and Kubel at $2,000,000 and you have a 2009 budget of around $83,000,000 without Hunter. Assuming the Twins are successful in signing Santana and Nathan to extensions and Morneau to a long term contract, it is evident that their 2009 payroll would have to be at least $95,000,000 if Hunter was resigned at the $12,000,000 he is making this year. Considering that this will be Hunter's last chance at a major three or four year contract before his game begins to deteriorate, is it likely the Twins could resign him to three years at $12,000,000 per year?

If the stadium remains on schedule for an opening in 2010 the Twins may increase their payroll in 2009, however, a payroll approaching $100,000,000 would be nearly a $30,000,000 increase over this year and guarantee a substantial loss. It doesn't appear to be likely that Terry Ryan, who has always maintained tight financial controls, will suddenly change his style of management and operate at a substantial loss…even for one year. It is also unlikely that he would choose to retain Hunter at the expense of losing Santana, Nathan, Mauer, Morneau or Cuddyer, therefore, the likelihood that Hunter returns is very small.

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