Braves Could Land Griffey

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

For years now, Ken Griffey Jr. has been sending signals -- some subtle, some not so subtle -- that he'd love to be a Brave.

The Braves got those signals, of course. It would have been tough to miss them. But the timing was never right. Or the fit wasn't right. Or, especially, the dollars in Junior's paycheck weren't right.

But now, all of a sudden, "the stars seem like they're finally lining up" to make this marriage happen, according to a source who has spoken with Braves management.

And Griffey was set to decide between the Braves and Seattle Mariners by Monday or early Tuesday, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

So the question is: How would Griffey fit, at age 39, coming off a season in which he had a lower slugging percentage (.424) than Kaz Matsui and hit fewer home runs (18) than Luke Scott?

"He's a guy who can still hit," said Chipper Jones, who would figure to find Griffey keeping him company in the middle of the lineup. "I played with him a few years ago in the [World Baseball] Classic, and he was our best hitter. He's got a knack for being able to turn it up and prove people wrong.

"So I know, having talked to him for a few years, that he's always wanted to play here. And now he's got his opportunity."

From all accounts, Griffey hasn't said yes to anyone yet. And all Braves general manager Frank Wren would say about him Sunday, during the Braves' first workout of the spring, was that "we have interest, and we've expressed that interest. And as we're getting closer to our full squad reporting Wednesday, we'd like to add a bat. And he's one of the guys we're considering and talking to."

But every indication is that Griffey has moved ahead of the Braves' other options (namely, signing free agent Garret Anderson or trading for the Yankees' Nick Swisher).

Besides fitting in at a salary that would enable them to also bring back Tom Glavine, here's what Griffey offers the Braves:

• For one thing, he can still hit right-handers. Even in a down year, when a bad knee affected everything he did, Griffey hit. 272 and slugged .462 against right-handed pitching last season. Before that, he'd slugged over. 500 against right-handers for 15 consecutive years.

• The Braves like his fit against the rest of the NL East. He hit a combined .316 against the Mets, Phillies and Marlins last year -- .357 against Philadelphia, .308 facing the Mets and .294 against Florida.

• And, finally, he'd be basically a platoon left fielder (likely sharing time with Matt Diaz) -- giving the Braves some upside at a position where they hit fewer homers (six) than any team in the majors last year and ranked 29th among 30 teams in on-base percentage plus slugging, or OPS.

Griffey certainly isn't a classic middle-of-the-order bat anymore. But the Braves might hit him third or fourth nonetheless, depending on how their other lineup pieces fit together. And if that means Bobby Cox wants to bump Jones down to cleanup, the Chipper said he'd be willing to do that to get Griffey into this mix.

"I don't know how Bobby would want to do it . . . but it doesn't matter," Jones said. "Whichever way our offense works best. I don't mind hitting fourth. I've hit fourth behind J.D. Drew and behind [Gary Sheffield]. It's not my preferred spot. But I'd certainly do whatever is best for the club."

Jones has only gotten 42 at-bats out of the cleanup hole in the last four seasons combined (most recently in 2007). And he's a .297 lifetime hitter batting fourth, with a .400 on-base percentage and .528 slugging. Hitting third, he's hitting .316 with a .411 OBP and .557 in slugging.

But wherever Griffey hits, just the idea of him doing it in a Braves uniform had Cox reminiscing Sunday about the first time he saw Griffey -- as an 18-year-old high school center fielder in 1988, when Cox was the Braves' general manager.

"I've known Kenny since he was a little kid," Cox said. "Saw him when he was in high school. And we had no chance of getting him [in the draft]. I just wanted to see what the best player in the nation looked like. And he was the best player in the nation. He looked like it."

Asked where he would rank Griffey among the best high school players he'd ever seen, Cox replied: "Maybe number one."

When he was reminded that Jones was also once the No. 1 pick in the country out of high school and might not like hearing that, Cox laughed.

"Yeah, they're 1A-1B," he said, launching into inimitable damage-control mode. "Or 1B-1A. I just put 'em together. But Griffey, as a center fielder, was unbelievable in high school. Let alone his hitting, speed and everything that he had in those days."


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