The Angels, as expected, did not make a 13.3-million qualifying offer to Torii Hunter by Fridays 2 p.m. deadline, a decision that does not preclude the veteran right fielder from returning to Anaheim but clearly reduces the chances.
The Angels can continue to negotiate with Hunter, but so can 29 other teams. After hitting .313 with 16 home runs and 92 runs batted in last season and carrying the Angels for much of September, there should be plenty of suitors for Hunter despite the fact hes 37.
And if Hunter, whose five-year, 90-million contract expired after the season, signs elsewhere, the Angels will not receive draft-pick compensation for him, which makes him more attractice to teams pursuing him in free agency.
"It's probably a bigger hurdle, yes," agent Larry Reynolds said when asked how much the move decreases the chances of Hunter returning to the Angels. "But Jerry Dipoto has been very straighforward with us. This is no surprise at all. We appreciate his no-nonsense approach to this thing.
"I think at this point, while Torii certainly wants to be an Angel, he realizes he has to keep his eyes wide open and move forward."
Hunter, a fan favorite whom teammates call the heart and soul of the Angels, said hes willing to take a significant paycut to remain, and owner Arte Moreno and General Manager Jerry Dipoto expressed their desire to bring him back.
In late September, as Hunter was completing a torrid final month in which he hit .345 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 29 games, Moreno even went on the teams radio station and said, If we dont figure out a way to re-sign him, were going to get hung, arent we?
But the Angels, according to a person familiar with negotiations who is not authorized to speak publicly about them, made what Hunter considered a low-ball offer in early October, and talks did not progress much from there.
Theres no sour taste in my mouth, Hunter said by phone from Texas. Ive had nothing but fun in the Angels organization. The fans have been supportive. Everybody knows where I want to be, but as long as I can play baseball and get a chance to win, it doesnt matter where I am.
Finances, a surplus of outfielders and a lack of pitching depth appeared to factor in the teams decision. The Angels had a record 159-million payroll last season and three young, talented andfor the next few yearsvery inexpensive outfielders in Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos.
They also owe underachieving veteran outfielder Vernon Wells 42-million over the next two seasons and have been unable to find a trading partner who would take Wells and at least some of that salary.
Such a trade would have probably cleared enough payroll to make a competitive offer to Hunter, but the Angels are focused more on improving their pitching staff and re-signing free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke and were not ready to commit the resources necessary to sign Hunter right now.
The Angels have a lot of things going on, Hunter said. They have their hands tied right now.
Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove Award winner who has never played in a World Series, said in July that if he doesnt return to the Angels, he would consider playing for only three teams, the Yankees, Rangers or Dodgers. Otherwise, he would retire.
But after a superb second half and another season in which he showed few signs of age, Hunter has expanded that list.
Once Saturday hits, its open season, Im open to anybody, Hunter said. Ill be my own scout. Ill see what moves are made and try to get to the team that has the best chance of winning.