Would Griffey consider being dealt to surprising Rays?
Those who know Ken Griffey Jr. know nothing is more important than family to the newest member of baseball's 600-home-run club. Now Griffey, a longtime resident of the Orlando, Fla., area, is telling friends he's monitoring the surprising Tampa Bay Rays as a possible destination for him, should the Reds decide to deal him.
Griffey, 38, has a no-trade clause but has told intimates that if the Rays stay in the race, he'd consider waiving his veto power to go home. Or close to home, anyway. Tampa is much nearer his Orlando-area residence than any other big-league city. Griffey's tony Isleworth community is about an hour from St. Petersburg, where the Rays play.
Griffey's love for his family was on display once again in recent days when he had his wife and kids join him for home run No. 600, hit four hours to the south of Orlando in Miami. Griffey plainly wanted to make history in the state he resides. He didn't start the previous series at Philadelphia due to what was termed "general soreness'' that curiously wasn't such an impediment once the Reds got to Florida.
After breaking the record, Griffey (.256 7 HRs, 30 RBI) pointed out he did take four swings as a pinch hitter in Philly but sounded thrilled that he didn't happen to hit one out there since his family wasn't there. He's such a natural and still so good you almost wonder if he can homer on call.
His trade to the Reds nine years ago was originally seen as a homecoming for Griffey, who grew up in Cincinnati. However, back then his first choice was actually Atlanta, which was the big-league team closest to Orlando at the time with a chance to win.
Baseball insiders expect the rookie-heavy Reds, who appear at least a year away from contention, to explore trading the future Hall of Famer. But there's no evidence there are yet serious trade talks involving Griffey, and one intimate said, in fact, that "nothing's imminent.'
Griffey is believed likely to prefer waiting to be traded until after the All-Star Game, anyway; he's running third in balloting for NL outfielders. He's thought by friends to be interested in playing the final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, where he has often told of how once felt slighted by Billy Martin as a kid running around the clubhouse when his father, Ken Sr., played in the Bronx.
As fortune has it, the improving Rays, who at 38-28 are currently leading the wild-card race by three games, may have a spot for Griffey, provided they don't have to surrender one of their very top prospects or pay exorbitantly. Griffey makes $12 million this year but remains productive and imposing enough to justify that salary, especially on a pro-rated basis over a half year. The bigger question for any acquiring team would be the $16.5-million option for 2009 that Griffey might request be exercised in the event he's traded. That's quite a bit high for an aging player on the precipice of DH duties.
Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said, "We have a lot of confidence in the 25 guys we have. That said, if we have the opportunity to upgrade our roster and it is something that makes sense in terms of the acquisition cost, we'd be aggressive to make a move. But short of that, we have confidence in the guys we have here.''
The Rays don't have a set starting right fielder, but the left-handed-hitting Eric Hinske (11 home runs, 31 RBI) has done a nice job as part of a rotation, and a right-handed hitter might actually be a better fit. Veteran Cliff Floyd (.250, 5 HRs) has been solid serving as the left-handed DH for the Rays but is injury prone and has been held out of the lineup in recent days. Floyd said earlier this year he's pretty sure this will be his last season.
Reportedly, the Rays briefly considered Barry Bonds this spring before deciding he wouldn't be the right person to add to their young clubhouse. Those concerns wouldn't affect a run at Griffey, whose clubhouse reputation is solid.
Meantime, Griffey, whose so-so start has been attributed to anxiety over his chase for No. 600, will be keeping an eye on the Rays. If they remain in the race, they are believed to be his first option. There was speculation a few weeks ago that the Mariners might be interested in Griffey. But it would be hard to imagine him waiving his no-trade clause to leave a decent young team like the Reds to go to Seattle, where the team is brutal and insiders say that clubhouse atmosphere is stale.