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Your Choice: Mike Cameron or Torii Hunter

For about half the price of Hunter, the Twins could fill the hole in center field with the veteran Cameron.  How do the two compare?

As much fun as it would be to indulge the idea of plucking Andruw Jones off the free agent market, it's far more likely that Minnesota (should Hunter not be re-signed) would be looking to the next tier of center field possibilities.  Corey Patterson, Kenny Lofton and Mike Cameron fit the financial bill, while Aaron Rowand is likely to sign with a team willing to throw more dollars at him than would the Twins.  Between Patterson, Lofton and Cameron, Cameron's tools mirror Torri's the closest.  He has good power for a center fielder, strikes out often and has a collection of Gold Gloves.

If they were the same player, the decision to bring back Torii or to select Cameron would be a no-brainer.  While a five-year contract for Hunter is likely to average between $14 and $16 million per season, a two or three-year deal for the free agent Padre is likely to average $6 to $8 million.  Obviously they aren't the same player, making the comparison one worth the research.

The summer of 2008 will be Cameron's age-35 season, while Hunter would be 32.  Both players are in the years of their careers where production in most parts of their game is in decline, but the 2 1/2 year age gap is definitely a dimension that should play into any decision.  Age on it's own isn't the determining factor, and looking at the last two years, each center fielder has still been providing their brand of offense.  Torii has had two of his best offensive years, while Mike has been providing solid, Cameron-esque offense.  Hunter clearly is not declining at the plate, while at the worst Cameron is dropping off just slightly.  Considering the age gap, this is to be expected:  Cameron will continue to decline, even if slowly, while Hunter is approaching the years where a player of his profile will begin the slide.

Neither player has had a history of recurring disabled list stints.  In fact, the most time each player has spent out of the lineup was in 2005, when Cameron lasted only 76 games with the Mets while Fenway shortened Torii's season to 98 games.  Which reminds me, they had eerily similar years at the dish in '05--check this out:

Player  Games  HR   Avg   Obp   Slg   OPS+
Hunter    98   14  .269  .337  .452   107
Cameron   76   12  .273  .342  .477   113

Torii Hunter has a career OPS+ of 104; Cameron 107.  Torii Hunter has collected six Gold Gloves (going on seven); Cameron three.  Cameron has averaged nearly 25 stolen bases a year since 1997 at a 78% success rate; Hunter has averaged just over 17 stolen bases the last six seasons with a 70% success rate.

Ultimately both of these guys have very similar profiles.  Is age the defining factor, or is it the monetary commitment?  Essentially this is what it comes down to, unless you're willing to look at offensive projections.  Here is how PECOTA forecasts both Cameron and Hunter through 2011.

Player    PA  2B  HR  BB  SO  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg  VORP  Age

Cameron  421  21  17  45  94  14  .263  .349  .476  17.5  35
Hunter   471  23  17  35  83  12  .280  .338  .462  16.2  32

Player    PA  2B  HR  BB  SO  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg  VORP  Age

Cameron  404  20  16  44  92  11  .255  .340  .467  11.3  36
Hunter   442  21  16  33  77   9  .276  .334  .460  13.6  33

Player    PA  2B  HR  BB  SO  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg  VORP  Age

Cameron  294  14  11  31  68   7  .252  .336  .453   7.2  37
Hunter   390  18  14  30  70   8  .272  .331  .453   9.9  34

Player    PA  2B  HR  BB  SO  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg  VORP  Age

Cameron  270  13  11  26  64   6  .249  .328  .454   3.9  38
Hunter   296  14  11  22  51   6  .270  .327  .447   5.7  35

PECOTA believes that Hunter's value will remain largely the same from '08 - '09, with vastly increasing chances of attrition beginning in 2010.  Cameron, on the other hand, is already in the midst of a forecasted decline beginning next season.  This has as much to do with the age of each player (Hunter's age in 2010 was Cameron's age in 2007) as it has to do with their profile.

The obvious point to bring up here is that these are forecasts made prior to the 2007 season; it will be interesting to see how much these forecasts change when this last year's statistics are plugged in.  With the Twins in need of offense going into next summer, the forecasts will carry more weight with me once they've been updated.

Keeping Hunter guarantees certain things, provided he stays healthy.  You're going to get that offensive presence hitting in the middle of the order, which we all know matters a great deal coming out of a season where the runs were a little too hard to come by.  But by not signing Hunter, would that available chunk of cash be enough to pick up not just one, but two hitters who can provide some depth past the six-hole?  Even if neither player provides the punch that Hunter does individually, is it worth it to fill two holes with players whose offensive upside is a step or two below what we've come to expect from Torii?  If the first year of Hunter's contract is worth $13,000,000, could the Twins sign Cameron and, via trade or another free agency signing, find an answer at third base or designated hitter for the same amount?

All this comparing has assumed that the Twins have an option of one or the other.  If they decide not to take advantage of their exclusive negotiation period with Torii, there's no guarantee that Cameron (or any other center field option) would be available to the Twins.

It's all about the trade-offs.  Bill Smith presumably does have more money to spend this off-season than the Twins were used to having the last ten seasons, but that money is easily spent and isn't enough to make his decisions easy.  Under the assumption that it's either Torii or Mike Cameron, let's play a game:  who do you want and why?