Saturday, July 19, 2003

Ken Griffey Jr.

Yesterday
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday
- The Beatles
(sorry again, AG)

Everyone knows just how great Ken Griffey Jr. was as a Seattle Mariner. By the time he left there at the age of 29, he already had 398 career homeruns. He won Gold Gloves every year from 1991 to 1999. He hit in the top ten in OPS eight times. The list could go on and on.

But even bigger than the stats was the hype. Griffey was the symbol of the Seattle Mariners, and really, for all of baseball. He was usually considered one of the top three players in the game. He caused a national flack by wearing his baseball cap backwards during batting practice. Griffey was a celebrity, the man most likely to break Aaron's record, back when it looked a whole lot harder to break. Who in baseball now equals Griffey's Seattle career in terms of youth, performance, and notoriety? Nobody. You could make a case for ARod, who is a better player, but he doesn't have the fame outside of baseball that Junior did. Outside of baseball, he wasn't as famous as Kobe, but bigger than say, Michael Vick.

Suddenly
I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday
Came suddenly
- Yesterday, The Beatles

The switch to Cincinnati has not gone as planned for anyone. Here's Griffey's injuries just as a Red, as taken from the Cincinnati Post:

2000
Sept. 11-end of season -- Partial tear of left hamstring.

2001
April 29-June 15 -- Partial tear of left hamstring.

2002
June 24-July 22 -- Strained right hamstring.

April 6-May 25 -- Partial tear of patella tendon in right knee and partially dislocated right kneecap.

2003

July 17 -- Ruptured right ankle tendon.

April 5-May 15 -- Dislocated right shoulder.


It's that ruptured ankle tendon that has finished this season.

Apparently there were some boos as they took Griffey off of the field. Most people would say that Griffey has been the victim of bad luck since he has been in Cincinnati, but I think another big culprit is unrealistic expectations. Here's stats for Griffey's last four years in Seattle, and his first year in Cincinnati, when he played in 145 games:

1996 - OBP .392, SLG .628
1997 - OBP .382, SLG .646
1998 - OBP .365, SLG .611
1999 - OBP .384, SLG .576
2000 - OBP .387, SLG .556

The first thing I see with this is that his power has dropped three straight years, but another way to look at that is that his power had dropped for two straight years before going to Cincinnati. At the time, everyone blamed the effect on Safeco Field, and didn't really expect a drop in Griffey's performance. But Safeco didn't open until the 1999/2000 season.

Also, notice how his OBP is higher in his first year as a Red than any of the last three as a Mariner. And if you go by the Paul DePodesta method of "OBP is worth three times SLG", then his first year in Cincinnati is better than his 1998 season as a Mariner, when he hit 56 homers. Considering that Griffey is 30 years old in 2000, just slightly beyond most player's peak year, this is right about where you would expect Griffey's numbers to be.

So it's not just that Griffey has had all bad luck once he got to the Reds. Now, I know what you're thinking: Griffey has missed a ton of time since 2000. OK, let's look at that. Here are Griffey's numbers for 2001 and 2002, his age 31 and 32 seasons, and the numbers in Seattle for the next two years previous, 1995 and 1996, when he is 24 and 25:

1995 - 111 games, .402 OBP, .674 SLG
1996 - 72 games, .379 OBP, .481 SLG

2001 - 111 games, .365 OBP, .533 SLG
2002 - 70 games, .358 OBP, .426 SLG

Almost the exact same number of games, a worse year both times the second straight year with an injury. The total stats for the first two years are better, but if you had to rank the seasons from best to worst, they'd come out 1995, 2001, 1996, 2002. And the first two years were in the Kingdome.

That brings us to this year. In another new park, one that definitely rewards power hitters, here are Griffey's stats for his injury-riddled 2003 season.

53 games .370 OBP, .566 SLG

Griffey's career numbers? .379 OBP .562 SLG

Ladies and Gentlemen, the man can still hit. We just have to keep him on the field. It's similar in that way to Mark McGwire, who missed all sorts of time in what should have been the prime of his career.

Of course, keeping him on the field will not be an easy task. His Mariner injuries were usually his wrists and hands, but his Reds injuries have all been to his legs, much worse. So how do we go about resurrecting Junior's career?

The first thing we have to do is get him out of Cincinnati. They will always want Mariner Ken (sounds like Barbie's sailor boyfriend) as opposed to Red Ken (Barbie's brush with Communism), and they ain't gonna get him. I've got a feeling that Junior feels the same way, and is always tryng to be the Gold Glove centerfielder, to live up to outdated expectations. He needs a new start.

So let's take a look at that contract . . .

HOLY MO VAUGHN, BATMAN!

It's a whopper. 12.5 million for the next five years, with a team option for a sixth (don't laugh) that carries with it a 4 million dollar buyout. Griffey is owed another 12 million in deferred payments.

The Reds need out of this, and so does Junior. So here's the deal: The Reds give him the 12 million they owe him now, the 4 million buyout now, and another year's salary for his off-season rehab and his trouble. Griffey gets a check for 28.5 million dollars, the Reds save 50 million dollars, everyone wins.

Griffey is now free, and very, very, rich. He can sign a much smaller contract with much lower expectations. He can also get out of centerfield, and for that matter, the outfield. Junior should look for a team that wants a DH, and a fifth outfielder, and that's it. With those legs, Junior can't be on the field except for emergencies. So we need a team that will only need him as a DH next year, that will have an opening at that position . . .

Seattle anyone?

OK, that may not be the best idea. Too much history, and we want Ken away from that kind of thing. What about signing for two mil a year in some place like KC, or Oakland? The point is, there's options, and Junior can still finish his Hall of Fame career on a high note.

So don't give up, Ken! There's hope for you yet!

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