December 13, 2002
I have been reading the various rumors about Ken Griffey Jr. this past week and I realized something:
I had completely forgotten about him.
I mean, I still knew he existed as a human being, but baseball-wise, he was not even in my frame of mind.
Two weeks ago you could have asked me to name the top 50 players in Major League Baseball and given me 5 hours to do it and I am pretty sure Griffey's name wouldn't have even popped into my head.
The whole situation is really quite startling actually.
A few years ago, Ken Griffey Jr. was the king of baseball.
From 1996-1999, Griffey hit 49, 56, 56 and 48 homers and drove in 140, 147, 146 and 134 runs.
While playing a Gold Glove center field.
He had the interesting backstory and the fans loved him.
"White Sox general manager Ken Williams said that Cincinnati contacted him about a possible trade for Magglio Ordonez, MLB.com reported Thursday. "Was I contacted by the Reds? Yes,'' Williams told the Web site. "Did I take a week to think about it? No. How long did I think about it? About five seconds."
You know it is bad when Kenny Williams is laughing at your trade offers.
Like I said, absolutely startling.
Griffey's downfall can pretty much be traced to the point that he was traded the Reds prior to the 2000 season.
He battled through injuries and a low 1st-half batting average in 2000, but still managed to play in 145 games and hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBIs.
Not exactly the savior that everyone in Cincinnati probably thought he would be, but a very nice season.
Then he battled even more injuries in 2001 and could only play in 111 games.
He hit .286 with 22 homers and 20 doubles.
2002 was the low point of his career.
He played in only 70 games, hit only 8 homers and had his lowest slugging % (.426) since his rookie year, when he was 19 years old.
So, the question is, can Ken Griffey Jr. possibly be all washed up at age 32?
And, if not, would he be worth trading for?
First of all, I don't think he is all washed up.
Obviously, if he can't keep the injuries under control, he is never going to be a star again.
But, if he can stay healthy, I believe he still has the skills to be an elite player.
One thing I do not think he can continue to do is play a Gold Glove center field.
Actually, I tend to think Griffey's defense has always been quite overrated because of his abilities at the plate and his home run robbing catches.
He is also 32 years old and his legs are shot because of the various hamstring injuries he has suffered through recently.
Asking him to play center field is not only bad news for his team's pitchers, it also gives him more chances to hurt himself.
Whether Griffey stays on the Reds or is traded to another team, I think he absolutely needs to slide one spot over - either to the left or the right - and spend the rest of his career as a corner outfielder.
I think he has a good arm and can still cover some ground, so right field might be the best spot for him.
As a hitter, Griffey's career "path" has been pretty typical, at least prior to the injuries.
He started playing the Majors at age 19 (which obviously is not the typical part).
At that point he was a consistent .300+ hitter that hit as high as .327 and .323.
As he matured, he started to add power and plate discipline, at the expense of the batting average.
Like I said, very typical career path.
I think expecting Griffey to be a .300 hitter every year at this point is wishful thinking.
His batting averages over the last 5 seasons are: .284, .285, .271, 286 and .264.
He is also no longer a threat on the basepaths.
Ken Griffey Jr. is no longer the 20-something year old kid with the backwards hat hitting .300 and making leaping catches against outfield walls.
He is now just an aging slugger who is probably best suited for right field and might never see a .320 batting average ever again.
That said, if I were a GM, I would be more than willing to take a chance on Ken Griffey Jr.
You will never, ever be able to acquire a superstar player in his early-30s for any cheaper.
Trading for Griffey right now is the very definition of "buying low."
Plus, his contract, although large, isn't overly horrible.
He is due $12.5 million dollars a year until 2008 and quite a bit of that money is actually deferred to much later.
I don't know the specifics of how deferments work or what the financial ramifications are for a team, but let's just say Griffey will make about $12 million a year for the next 6 years.
What situations would be good ones for a team to acquire Griffey?
Pittsburgh has a low budget, but they could probably take on Griffey's $12 million a year by giving the Reds Kendall in return.
Griffey is set to make $72 million over the next 6 seasons and Kendall will make $50 million over the next 5 years.
I don't know about you, but I would pay an extra $3-$4 million a season to make that upgrade if I were the Pirates.
They could put Griffey in right field and Brian Giles in left and they might actually be able to score some runs.
In fact, add in Craig Wilson (at 1B?) and a healthy Aramis Ramirez and the Pittsburgh offense could be pretty good.
Of course, I doubt Jim Bowden would be willing to take Jason Kendall for Griffey, but you never know.
He might really just want to rid himself of Griffey and the $22 million dollar difference in their two contracts would be nice for the Reds too.
Normally I would say that old cliche about Griffey needing a change of scenery.
That really doesn't work in this case because, well, a change of scenery is exactly what started this whole mess.
Looking back on the Griffey trade, there are two things that strike me as funny:
1) That Griffey has not been the best center fielder involved in the trade.
2) That the Reds held off on the trade for a long time and the entire deal was almost ruined, all because they were unwilling to part with Pokey Reese.
Mike Cameron since the trade:
Year EqA BRARP FRAR SAL$
2000 .284 34 22 $2.2
2001 .301 48 36 $3.4
2002 .290 38 30 $4.7
Ken Griffey Jr. since the trade:
Year EqA BRARP FRAR SAL$
2000 .302 45 30 $9.3
2001 .297 27 6 $12.5
2002 .271 7 2 $8.6
For those of you wondering...
EqA stands for "Equivalent Average" and it measures a player's hitting in the context of the league and ballpark he played in.
RARP stands for "Batting Runs Above Replacement Position" and it measures the amount of runs a player was worth offensively over a replacement level player at his position.
FRAR stands for "Fielding Runs Above Replacement" and it measures how many runs a player was worth defensively over a replacement level player at his position.
SAL$ stands for "Salary" and it measures how much cashola a player got paid.
And the man who almost ruined the entire trade?
Pokey Reese since the trade:
Year EqA BRARP FRAR SAL$
2000 .245 8 44 $2.0
2001 .226 0 19 $3.2
2002 .248 9 27 $1.8
I am not sure what the point is here or even that there is one.
I guess basically this is exhibit #1 for why a trade shouldn't be evaluated for a few years, at least.
Pokey Reese held up the trade of Ken Griffey Jr. and has proven himself to be almost worthless.
Ken Griffey Jr.'s star has fallen more than anyone in baseball.
Mike Cameron not only was able to fill in for Griffey as the Mariners' center fielder, he was able to outperform Griffey in 2 out of the 3 seasons.
Not strange enough for you?
Antonio Perez was the big minor league prospect involved in the deal.
He went from Cincy to Seattle and was supposed to be the Mariners shortstop of the future.
Guess what? He was involved in "age gate" this summer and is currently with the Devil Rays, trying to resurrect some sort of utility infielder career for himself.
The only really stable player involved in the entire negotiations is...Brett Tomko!
Tomko has basically continued to do what he has always done, which is be a decent 4th or 5th starter in the Major Leagues.
So, let's recap the trade, 3 seasons later:
The trade involved the biggest superstar in the game and he immediately went into a career nosedive so massive that I just discussed whether or not his GM should trade him for Jason Kendall - and I did it with a relatively straight face.
The man who almost ruined the entire trade, Pokey Reese, got traded to the Rockies, traded to the Red Sox and was then let go after they decided not to offer him arbitration. He signed with Pittsburgh and hit .264 with 4 homers in 2002.
Mike Cameron, a relative afterthought in the trade, stepped into CF in Seattle and became an All-Star.
The big prospect in the deal, Antonio Perez, aged like 2 years in one summer afternoon and became a complete non-prospect.
And Brett Tomko continued to be Brett Tomko.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, baseball is one wacky game.
By the way, I heard Mike Cameron is on the market.
Maybe Jim Bowden should give the Mariners a call?
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