Forget controversy -- stats show Griffey has no place on Mariners
Ken Griffey Jr. was reportedly caught sleeping in the clubhouse during a game
The bigger problem is that Griffey's bat does not warrant a roster spot in Seattle
It's a situation akin to Reggie Jackson's in 1987, but that only lasted one year
The problem isn't that Ken Griffey Jr. may have been asleep in the clubhouse during a game last week at a point where manager Don Wakamatsu needed a pinch-hitter. The problem is that Griffey rendering himself unavailable may have increased the Mariners' chance of winning that game. Operation Turndown has served only to distract from from the main issue: that Griffey, for all his years of service to Seattle baseball, is done and has no business on a major-league roster, much less a job serving as the designated hitter for a team desperate for offense.
After going 0 for 3 with a walk in Tuesday night's 5-1 win over the Orioles, Griffey is batting .200 with two doubles, no homers and seven bases on balls. His .489 OPS is fifth-worst among players with at least 75 plate appearances, and his .225 slugging average is second-lowest only to the .218 of Florida's Chris Coghlan. Griffey has not played an inning in the field this season, and played fewer than 100 innings with a glove in 2009. His role is to be productive at the plate, and when he's not doing so, he's a waste of a roster spot.
The Mariners brought Griffey, still a local hero a decade after he was traded away, back before the 2009 season for a farewell tour. The most apt comparison is to 1987, when the Oakland A's signed a 41-year-old Reggie Jackson to a one-year contract that he may not have deserved on merit, but which allowed an enormously popular player to take a victory lap around the league with his original major league team. As was the case with the 2009 Mariners, the 1987 A's occupied the gray area between contender and rebuilder and needed a distraction for their fan base as they ramped up after five straight losing seasons. The two players were at comparable points in their careers heading into that last campaign:
Each declined markedly during the season in which they returned home:
The difference between the two is that the A's went into 1988 no longer needing a distraction, fully focused on winning the AL West. Building around a tremendous core of power hitters and some retreaded starting pitchers, they didn't feel the need for a second victory lap with a player who could no longer help them win. Jackson retired after the 1987 season. Seattle, by contrast, looked at a 40-year-old on a three-season decline, who couldn't play the field any longer, who hadn't put up DH-worthy numbers since 2007...and locked him up again. It was an inexplicable decision, made worse by the context. Under general manager Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners had spent two years trying to put the best defense possible on the field, committing to glove-first players such as Jack Wilson and Casey Kotchman. A team emphasizing defense at eight positions has absolutely no business using the ninth for PR purposes.
There's no baseball defense for the decision. Ken Griffey Jr. did nothing in 2009 to warrant a job in 2010. There was a time, many years ago, when a team could use a roster spot on a player such as Griffey, a veteran who wouldn't play much but who would get a big cheer when he did, who might scare the occasional right-handed reliever, who might even come up with one big hit a month to win a game. That time ended with the advent of double-digit pitching staffs. No team carrying just 13 position players can afford to use one on a hitter who cannot hit, on an outfielder who cannot field. The Mariners needed to walk away from Griffey last winter as part of the transition from building to winning, just as the A's had done more than 20 years prior with Jackson. Seattle failed to do so, and now have an intractable problem: a living legend with a dead bat.
I don't care whether Griffey was asleep in the clubhouse or not. Living on the East Coast, I'm happy to use Mariners games as a sleep aid myself, counting 4-3s and F8s the way some people count sheep, so it's not hard for me to see where someone getting an up-close-and-personal look at their offense would end up unconscious. I will say that I see no reason to believe the story is untrue; the spirited denial by Mike "Part of the Problem" Sweeney and his .469 OPS aside, I have a hard time seeing a scenario in which two players invented a story about an enormously popular Hall of Famer sleeping in the clubhouse. It's a lot easier for me to believe Griffey racked out, for whatever reason.
There's no easy out here for the Mariners. The 1988 A's had about a half-dozen guys who could take Jackson's playing time away from him. The 2010 Mariners' problem is that they don't have even one. Sweeney has been even worse than Griffey, this year and over the last three; Jeff Clement is in Pittsburgh; Milton Bradley, who always should have been the DH, is on some kind of leave; Tommy Everidge and Mike Carp have been terrible in Tacoma; no one has heard from Ken Phelps in a while. It's possible that the next viable internal option is former Brewers' prospect Brad Nelson, who is hitting .320/.404/.520 at Triple-A, but who at 27 has a career .797 OPS at that level.
Whether it's Jermaine Dye or Jose Guillen or Jack Cust or someone else, the Mariners have no choice but to go outside the organization and upgrade their DH slot. They cannot win the AL West with Ken Griffey Jr. dragging down an offense that is already -- by design -- below average. That, and not the did-he-or-didn't-he tale of a catnap gone awry, is the story here.
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