TEMPE, Ariz. -- To Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter is "the rock, the leader" of the club, a right fielder he looks up to "like he's my dad, almost."
Second baseman Howie Kendrick calls the gregarious Hunter "one of the best players I've ever played with," a 13-year veteran whose passion, intensity and desire to win "brings out the best in everybody."
New General Manager Jerry Dipoto is getting his first up-close look at Hunter this spring, but he scouted the former Minnesota Twins star for 11 years and calls him "the energy of every team I've ever seen him play on and a pivotal and critical component of our team and clubhouse."
All of which will make the decision to retain or let go of Hunter when his five-year, $90-million contract expires after this season even tougher for the Angels, who have younger, cheaper and talented players (Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo) capable of pushing their way into the outfield next season.
In fact, Mike Scioscia got a little agitated last week with a reporter who prefaced a question about Hunter by saying this could be the manager's last spring with the nine-time Gold Glove Award winner.
"I'm not going to get into last springs, first springs, whatever -- I'm not going to refer to this being his last year," Scioscia said. "Torii is a unique player who is talented physically and very mentally strong. His presence in that clubhouse is felt. ... I hope he stays here."
Scioscia's reaction speaks to the difficulty the Angels will have separating their heads from their hearts in the Hunter decision.
The head -- and perhaps the wallet -- say let Hunter go. As consistent as he has been, rarely veering from his .285-hitting, 23-home run, 90-runs batted in seasons, and as strong as he is defensively, Hunter turns 37 in July, an age when projecting performance -- and the value to attach to it -- can be dicey.
Hunter will be paid $18.5 million this season, and with the Angels stretching their payroll to $150 million to accommodate slugger Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson, whose back-loaded contracts increase significantly over the next three years, that's a big chunk to come off the books.
The Angels also have players in Trout and Trumbo who could replace Hunter's production for a fraction of the price.
Trout, 20, is one of baseball's top prospects, a player with blazing speed and good power who showed promise during a major league cameo last season.
Trumbo, 26, had a team-leading 29 homers and 87 RBIs last season but was pushed off first base by Pujols. He has the skills and strong arm to play right field.
The salaries of each player for 2013: about $500,000.
"I know baseball, and I know they have young guys they want to give playing time to," Hunter said. "It could be difficult for me, but if they're willing to keep me, I would love to stay here."
That was clearly evident Dec. 8 when Hunter, caught up in the euphoria of the Angels' $317.5-million splurge on Pujols and Wilson, said he'd "take less" to stay in Anaheim.
"Whether it's two or three more years," Hunter said that day, "it won't be about the money."
How much "less" Hunter is willing to take -- and how strong of a 2012 season he has -- will determine whether the Angels retain him.
"I won't give you a number, but I want to be here," said Hunter, who has reached the playoffs six times but has never played in a World Series. "The money stuff will play itself out. I'm not a guy who will try to get everything. At this point of my career, it's about winning. If the Angels don't want me, I'll go to a team that has a chance to win. If not, I won't play."
Hunter spoke of retirement several times in 2011. He hit .232 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs through July but shook off a pesky quadriceps injury to hit .324 with a .396 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 31 RBIs in his final 51 games to finish at .262 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs.
"Once he got his legs back you saw what he did -- he was ridiculous," Kendrick said. "I don't think age is an issue as far as playing the game. He's still got it. He can flat-out play. I hope he kills it this year."
Though Hunter told reporters as early as May he was injured, he wouldn't let them write it until September, long after his season turned.
"That's the type of player he is; he doesn't want to make excuses," Kendrick said. "I've learned so much from him as far as being a competitor."
This is where the heart enters the Hunter decision. Hunter is the Angels' most popular player, loved by teammates, coaches and a GM who is just getting to know him.
"It's the smile, the eyes, the looseness," Dipoto said. "He makes the guys around him better."
Hunter polices the clubhouse. He dispenses advice. Even with Pujols, the game's premier slugger, Bourjos said, "This is Torii's clubhouse; I don't think Albert would want it any other way." If the Angels had a team captain, it would be Hunter.
"He always tells me, 'If I'm not getting it done at the plate, I'm taking every hit away in the outfield,' " Kendrick said. "He has that mindset that you can always do something to help the team win."
Including setting aside your ego for the good of the team.
Flanked by the immobile Juan Rivera and the aging Bobby Abreu in 2010, Hunter was covering so much ground in center field that the Angels worried he might run himself into retirement.
That August, Scioscia approached Hunter about moving to right field so the Angels could call up speedy defensive whiz Bourjos from triple A. Hunter agreed, without hesitation, and Bourjos will be forever grateful.
"I was nervous when I walked into the clubhouse (at Baltimore)," Bourjos said. "Torii told me, 'This is the best thing for the team. Kirby Puckett did the same thing for me, and there's no animosity. If you need anything, I'm here.' "
Next year, Hunter might not be here, and Bourjos can't imagine the Angels without him.
"I've thought about it, and I don't even want to think about it," Bourjos said. "I wish he was 10 years younger and I could play my whole career with him."