Ken Griffey Jr. is healthy and hitting homers—so will the Reds trade him?
He knows he's not the Kid he once was, the backward-hat-wearing free spirit who moved so easily around the field. These days the periodic sting in his right shoulder and in his right ankle, both surgically repaired last summer, remind Ken Griffey Jr. that, at 34, he is, in his words, "no spring chicken." But Griffey also knows that he is finally getting over the injuries that limited him to a career-low 53 games in 2003."The aches are less and less as days go by," he says.
Griffey's stats through Sunday were unspectacular (he was hitting .248 with eight homers), but pitchers beware: The 11-time All-Star centerfielder is heating up. Griffey's two-run homer last Saturday night in the Reds' 4-0 win over Los Angeles was his fifth in nine games and brought him to within 11 of 500. "With the time he's missed, it's still going to take him time to get all the way back," says Cincinnati G.M. Dan O'Brien. "The player you see now and the one you'll see in August will be very different."
That Griffey has been a fixture in the Reds' lineup this year is significant. Not since 2000, his first season in Cincinnati, had Griffey gone through April without a trip to the disabled list His continued good health could set the stage for an intriguing summer for the only active position player voted to baseball's All-Century team.
It's no secret that the Reds would like to rid themselves of Griffey's contract; he has five years remaining on the nine-year, $116.5 million deal he signed in February 2000. Before the 2003 season, then Cincinnati G.M. Jim Bowden had a trade in place that would have sent Griffey to San Diego for third baseman Phil Nevin, but Nevin used his no-trade clause to block the deal. (Griffey doesn't have such a clause in his contract) O'Brien says Griffey's name hasn't come up in discussions with other teams this year but acknowledges that Griffey could be moved, especially if the Reds (20-17 at week's end) fall out of contention. "We lost 93 games last year," says O'Brien. "As the season progresses, we do have to be open-minded on ways to improve this team."
If Griffey is traded, it would end a marriage that has been a failure for both the Cincinnati native and the Reds, who were just 318-367 since acquiring him from Seattle in February 2000. "Most people [in Cincinnati] wish all the best for me," says Griffey, who has spent more days on the DL (200) in the past two seasons than on the Reds' active roster (170). "But the ones who come to the ballpark and yell at me, they don't get that I'm more frustrated than anyone else. It's been tough with all these injuries. [But] I've never done anything to disrespect anyone—my family, the organization, anyone. My name has never been associated with anything negative off the field."
Given Griffey's recent history and his hefty contract, any team that tries to acquire him would be taking a considerable risk "You need to see him play half a year healthy at least to know that he's O.K.," says an executive from the Mariners, which during spring training was rumored to be interested in bringing Griffey back to Seattle. "Even if the Reds picked up half of [Griffey's contract], it's still a bunch of money. It's a five-year commitment, and he'd be 39 years old by the end."
For now, Griffey isn't concerned with the trade rumors or anything more than just staying healthy. The run of injuries hasn't dampened his drive, and he says he doesn't linger on the what-ifs of his lost seasons. He knows he has a lot of baseball ahead of him. "The past doesn't do me any good now? Griffey says. "The most important thing for me is to make the best of today. To me, that's the only thing that counts."
Baltimore's Brian Roberts
Earning His Wings at Second
Orioles teammates Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston Jr. are friends and off-season workout partners. As their names cropped up in trade rumors last winter—both play second base—they swapped the latest gossip every day, laughing at their predicament. "There was no animosity, no resentment," says Roberts. "We both understand it's part of the game."