BALTIMORE -- Torii Hunter hasn't ruled out returning to the Twins next season, but that decision now won't be made until after the '07 season is finished.

The Twins recently offered to begin talks for a contract extension, but Hunter turned them down.

The center fielder had previously stated that he wanted to talk with the team about an extension before the season came to a close. But his preference has now changed with the Twins fighting to get back in the playoff hunt.

"I don't want to be a distraction," Hunter said. "We have a chance to win this division, and once all that stuff starts, it can be a distraction to me, my teammates, my manager [and] my coaching staff. I don't want to be the cause of all that."

Hunter also refuted a report by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that he turned down an offer from the Twins for four years and $56 million. He said that those types of reports are the reason that he's chosen not to negotiate with the club now.

"That's wrong, way wrong," Hunter said. "And rumors like that can only distract from what we're trying to do on the field."

Twins general manager Terry Ryan has made it a policy not to comment on contract discussions that take place during the season.

Hunter will be one of a few notable center fielders on the free-agent market this offseason. Expected to join him on that list are the Braves' Andruw Jones, the Phillies' Aaron Rowand, and the Padres' Mike Cameron. Mariners center fielder Ichiro Suzuki had been eligible for free agency before Seattle signed him to a five-year, $90-million extension in July.

And while some might take this latest news as a sign that Hunter is ready to bolt, the center fielder said that's the furthest thing from the truth. Hunter made it known publicly earlier this year that he would not return to the Twins if no deal had been completed by the end of the season. But his feelings toward that have changed.

"It's different now," Hunter said. "I've just got to wait and see after the season ends. Then it's negotiating time. I love the Twins, and I'd love to stay. We'll just have to see what happens."