CLEVELAND -- It's become almost an annual ritual for Torii Hunter. The trade deadline approaches, and he once again has to answer questions about his future with the Twins. This year is a little different, considering the fact that the Twins are on the verge of falling out of the American League Central race, and Hunter will be a free agent at the end of the season.
So if Twins general manager Terry Ryan decides to turn the focus to the '08 season and Hunter doesn't fit into the club's budget, there is a great chance that his services could be up for bid in the coming days. It's something Hunter has fully accepted, even if he would prefer to remain in Minnesota for the rest of the season. "I'm at peace with it," Hunter said. "I want to be here, but I can't do anything about it now. After two years of talk, you know you can't control the situation. If I get traded, it's a bad thing because I want to be here. But it's not a bad thing that other teams want you." What helps is the fact that Hunter knows he would most likely be dealt to a contending ballclub that is looking to add a center fielder of his caliber. But Hunter does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract that prevents five teams -- the Blue Jays, Cubs, Devil Rays, Red Sox and Tigers -- from securing him in a deal. With all the rumors swirling at this time of year, Hunter admitted that he can't help but be a bit distracted by all of the hoopla. Having dealt with it in the past, this year has been a tad easier. But Hunter said he's started to approach each day in the Twins clubhouse as if it might be his last. "I look around and see Johan [Santana] walk in and think, 'Maybe that's the last time I joke around with him like that,'" Hunter said. "I look around and see Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer -- both who I've watched grow as hitters. I mean, it's tough. This might be the last time I play with these guys." Others in the clubhouse seem to be taking the countdown just as hard as Hunter. The center fielder said Morneau has taken to asking him every day if there is news while also trying to campaign for Hunter to re-sign with the Twins after the season. Hunter also had a closed door meeting with manager Ron Gardenhire this past week to discuss his future and the state of the team. Despite all the emotions that Hunter has invested in the club, he still said he understands the business side of the game. So if that means it would be in the best interest for the club to trade him to a contender for prospects, then Hunter feels like that's what it should do. "I know that if they feel I'm worth more than they can give me, they aren't going to offer because it's an embarrassment to them," Hunter said. "If that's the case, they should trade me to get some players or wait for their first-round pick if I go as a free agent. And really, I'm not upset with that." Second base shuffle: With only three days remaining until Tuesday's trade deadline, the rumor mill has started working into overdrive. One of the more prominent rumors includes Twins second baseman Luis Castillo. With Castillo set to be a free agent at the end of the '07 season, the interest in the second baseman has already started to peak. Several news sources have reported the Mets are one of a few teams that have expressed interest in Castillo. A Twins scout was on hand for the Mets-Nationals game on Friday, which came after a Mets scout was on hand at the Metrodome during the end of last week's homestand. Castillo said he has heard all the musings but is trying not to pay too much attention to them. "It hurts a little bit, the trade rumors," Castillo said. "I want to stay with the team and try to finish my year here. I don't have any control over that. I just try to still be focused on winning the game, but I have to be ready if something does happen." Scary moment: The Twins' 3-2 victory over the Indians on Saturday wasn't without one scary moment for the club. Third-base coach Scott Ullger was hit by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout. A hard liner off the bat of Casey Blake struck Ullger in the side of the face in the eighth inning. He was treated by team trainers and given an ice pack to reduce the swelling, but fortunately nothing was broken. Bench coach Steve Liddle took over as the third-base coach for the top of the ninth inning, but Ullger was back sitting on the bench to watch the team earn the victory. "I'm all right," Ullger said. "I just have a headache and swelling in there. It's going to be sore tomorrow, but I'll be OK."
Hall-worthy compliment: The stamp of "Future Hall of Famer" has already been applied to Mauer.But it was Mauer's current play that drew comparisons to one of Sunday's Hall of Fame inductees, Tony Gwynn. A hitter known more for his ability to hit for average than his power, Gwynn was often told throughout his career to try for more home runs. A similar argument could be made for Mauer, as many scouts believe he could hit for more power if he tried. That's not something the Twins are interested in making their catcher do. "Tony could put it in the seats and really turn on some balls, but he said it would take him out of his normal swing," Gardenhire said. "And the way that Joe goes about his at-bats is the same as Tony. Those guys you leave alone, you don't worry about power. If he hits .340 or .350 every year, we'll take it." Twins tidbits: Michael Cuddyer no longer has to wear the splint on his sprained right thumb. With a week still remaining until he's eligible to come off the disabled list, Cuddyer has begun to do mobility exercises and has started to resume some baseball activities. He played catch on Saturday, but he has yet to hit. ... Mauer saw his season-high 10-game hitting streak come to an end on Friday when he went 0-for-3. ... Hunter and some of the other Twins players took time during batting practice to visit with the Bluffton University Baseball team. The team was involved in a horrific bus accident that cost the lives of five teammates as well as the bus driver and his wife. Quotable: "We can't control that, and you can't let it swamp you. It's hard to do, I know. Because right now, that's all that people want to talk about, is trades and all those things. Sometimes it takes too much away from the focus on the field, and it shouldn't. But that's my job, and I haven't done my job well, either." -- Gardenhire, on the distractions of the trade deadline. Coming up: The Twins close out their six-game road trip with a 12:05 p.m. CT contest against the Indians on Sunday. Right-hander Matt Garza (1-2, 1.33) will make his first start at Jacobs Field and will face a pretty tough test as he duels with Indians ace C.C. Sabathia (13-4, 3.81).
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.