Hunter, White Sox share mutual interest
Free agent outfielder to meet with GM on Sunday
Torii Hunter certainly doesn't seem ready to commit to one team during his first foray into free agency.
But judging by his comments during a Chicago radio interview on Thursday morning, the White Sox clearly are in the running for his services -- if not the early leader.
"I play well in Chicago," said Hunter during his chat with hosts Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman on ESPN AM 1000. "The grass is true [at U.S. Cellular Field], and everything is going good for that place right now."
Hunter plans to meet Sunday with Ken Williams, focused on the White Sox general manager's plans to win in 2008. Hunter expects to hear good things from Williams but already knows quite a bit about the South Siders going into this get-together.
As Hunter pointed out, he's played nine or 10 games per year at U.S. Cellular for the past seven seasons and knows the outfield layout almost as well as he knows the Metrodome. Hunter has just a .252 average over 59 games at the White Sox home, with 13 home runs, 16 doubles and 52 RBIs.
Being able to practice his own particular brand of thievery in center ranks high on the list for Hunter, and he gave high marks to the White Sox fence in center. In fact, Hunter would turn down a good fit, team-wise and money-wise, if he doesn't feel the field is conducive to helping his new team defensively.
"That's 100 percent accurate," Hunter said. "Listen to those words and that will tell you where I might be ending up. I have to visit fields where I've never played and see if the grass runs true. I love defense so much that if the field is not right, I'm not taking it."
When asked about the money or years he was looking for through free agency, Hunter laughed and declined to talk about potential deals. When asked about what other teams he intended to meet with, Hunter laughed again and took the fifth. Hunter did admit that he had heard about interest from teams such as the Rangers, Nationals and Dodgers, among others, but that he intended to take this process slowly and carefully.
"You don't want to wait too late, but you don't want to jump on it too early," Hunter said. "I don't want this decision to be rushed because it could be a decision of a lifetime.
"I'm going to kick back and think back about it. Whatever team I end up with, I think I'm going to end my career there."
This Gold Glove center fielder, who just took home his seventh straight defensive prize from Rawlings, also gave high marks to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Hunter knows Guillen from both his playing days and as the man in charge, talking about Guillen, "the character," and the guy cracking jokes during batting practice and during the course of a game.
The fact that Guillen is a "player's manager" also seems appealing to Hunter.
"He sticks up for his players," said Hunter of Guillen. "There might be a chance I probably would play for him one day."
Guillen holds Hunter in similar high regard, with the 32-year-old believed to be the White Sox prime offseason target. White Sox fans haven't always felt the same affinity toward Hunter, especially after his torpedo shot of catcher Jamie Burke during a late-July game against the White Sox in 2004.
Minnesota ended up winning that particular contest and moved on to win the American League Central. That sort of hard-nosed play could help heal any existing old wounds if Hunter ultimately picks the White Sox.
While Hunter certainly wouldn't commit, he seems to have a belief production such as his 28-home run, 107-RBI effort from 2007 in Minnesota could be surpassed in Chicago.
"I could hit 35 home runs at U.S. Cellular, and I could steal about 20," said Hunter with a laugh. "I love that wall. I have a lot of family and friends in Chicago.
"It has always been fun for me there. If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't be talking to Kenny Williams on Sunday."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.