Signing Griffey a shortsighted move by Mariners

February, 19, 2009
The Mariners' agreement with Ken Griffey Jr. is a nostalgia signing that does very little to push the franchise forward and carries some risk of retarding their recovery from five years of mismanagement by the previous baseball regime.

Law chat

Ryan (Kokomo, IN): [Ken Griffey Jr.] could tank, but still be loved. That wouldn't be the case in Atlanta.

KL: If he tanks, they have to bench him, and then what happens? Good luck with that. Memory Lane is a dead-end street for baseball teams.

Chat wrap

Griffey has some value to a contender as part of a designated hitter platoon; he hit .272 with a .379 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers in 2008 and has had a consistent 200-point OPS split over the past three seasons. He can fake left field but is far below average defensively, and any thoughts of returning him to center are best dressed in flannel and thrown back to the mid-'90s. The Mariners aren't hopelessly out of the American League West race; they are no more than 15 games behind the Angels on paper, and there is substantial upside in their rotation. But the Mariners' offseason clearly has been aimed more at rebuilding than at short-term contention, and this move is just a marginal improvement in the latter while putting the former at some risk.

Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement need to play in the majors every day in 2009, but Griffey's presence on the roster potentially removes at-bats from both young players. There is only one alignment that gets both kids into the lineup on a regular basis -- Griffey as DH, Balentien in left, Clement catching and Kenji Johjima either platooning with Griffey or released. Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez would platoon in center.

It's a very limited role for Griffey, and if outfield prospect Michael Saunders is ready by midseason -- which seems likely, given his development to date -- Junior will have to be traded or willing to accept a bench role. Given the tenacity with which Griffey held on to his center fielder's glove, there's reason to doubt he'll be willing to accept reduced playing time, and I can't imagine ownership will be keen to trade Griffey to a contender in July if the Mariners are far enough out of the race by the deadline.

What's most troubling is that this appears not to be a baseball move, but a marketing one. It's a cynical, insulting ploy to try to get fans into the park -- "Hey, they've heard of this guy! They won't know he's not half the player he used to be!" -- and worse, it's misguided. Fans who want to see Griffey play again will go … once. One past-prime player isn't going to get large numbers of fans to go to the park on a regular basis; the only thing that can do that is winning, and Griffey is worth maybe a win to the Mariners in 2009, with the potential that he reduces future win totals if he takes playing time away from younger players.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer


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