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Hunter picks Angels over White Sox

Hunter picks Angels over White Sox

CHICAGO -- Some time after midnight on Thanksgiving, the White Sox primary free-agent target during this current offseason elected to sign a five-year, $90 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But Torii Hunter's stunning and completely unexpected selection only serves as a slight bump on the road general manager Ken Williams intends to travel while bringing the White Sox back to 2008 playoff contention.

"Yes, I admit I was taken back, but I've been down this road before and this [situation] doesn't allow for any time of mourning," he said via an e-mail to MLB.com on Thursday afternoon.

"All along, we have been talking to other free agents, as well as positioning ourselves in the trade arena," Williams added. "So I'm still optimistic we can make an impact."

Williams set his sights on acquiring Hunter, 32, in an effort to further strengthen his team up the middle. Orlando Cabrera, a two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop, joined the White Sox via a trade from the Angels for Jon Garland on Monday. Pending a physical, right-handed reliever Scott Linebrink will come to Chicago via a four-year, $19 million deal early next week in an effort to strengthen last year's dismal bullpen.

The White Sox stood as one of five teams who made significant offers to Hunter. When reached by MLB.com Thursday afternoon, Hunter only spoke of the Rangers, Royals, White Sox and "flirting with L.A.," although the Dodgers never made an official offer. He declined to mention the remaining two teams of interest.

Hunter told MLB.com earlier this week how he intended to go full-speed ahead with the free-agent decision-making process after the holiday, but the Angels stepped in for the first time Tuesday and made the decision for Hunter by late Wednesday/early Thursday. Prior to the Angels' agreement, Hunter admitted he was close to signing a deal to come to Chicago.

"I feel like we were very close," said Hunter of a potential deal with the White Sox, who reportedly made a five-year, $75 million offer to the free-agent center fielder.

"This is a business, but it was tough because [White Sox manager] Ozzie [Guillen] and Kenny Williams, they were so good," Hunter added. "It was tough to tell [Texas owner] Tom Hicks, the Hicks crew. They were so polite and down to earth. Everybody was so cool on both of those teams. But I knew when I had a good deal on the table."

With Hunter out of the picture, the White Sox move into high gear on plans for other free agents or possible trades. Aaron Rowand, the Chicago cult hero who played such a vital role on the 2005 World Series championship team, figures to hold the new center field focus for the South Siders, but the team also could be in on deals to acquire the Rays' Carl Crawford, Miguel Cabrera or Red Sox's Coco Crisp. Adding a potential leadoff hitter, upgrading the outfield overall and finding additional bullpen help remain major portions of Chicago's plan.

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Whatever the ultimate option, Williams isn't one to sit around feeling sorry for himself after coming so close with the Hunter deal. He didn't ask for a moment of pity during the 2007 season, but instead immediately began work to make that season a distant memory.

"As I said before, we will not go through what we went through last year and we will be better," Williams said in the e-mail.

In the aforementioned portion of the e-mail, Williams capitalized the word "not" for emphasis. It presents an example of his present determination, without the general manager saying a word.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["hot_stove" ] }