Ken Griffey Jr. did something almost unheard of in professional baseball.
He took less money to come back to his hometown, hoping to bring a World Series title back to Cincinnati and remind fans of the Big Red Machine and Nasty Boy days.
Griffey spent much of his stint with the Reds on DL, however. Not only did he miss out on the opportunity to potentially chase Hank Aaron for the all-time home run record, the center field icon did not help Cincy end its championship drought.
According to FoxSports.com, the Griffey era has come to its ultimate end. Griffey has—he had the right to veto any deal—accepted a trade to the Chicago White Sox. So with all of the trade talk about Adam Dunn, his counterpart on the other side of the outfield was the one to go after all.
Let us face it. The Reds are doing the right thing by dealing the aging slugger. They are 51-58, completely out of the competitive National League central race. Griffey, who joined the 600 home run club back in June, also sparked interest from his former team, the Seattle Mariners, for whom he won the Player of the Decade in the 1990s, hit 56 home runs in season twice and made an annual habit of winning Gold Glove awards. While the franchise waited for Griffey to hit that historic homer, the Mariners' offensive woes and the bust that is Erik Bedard spun them into a losing tailspin, ending all of the reunion talk.
Which pretty much destroyed the likelihood that he would get shipped. In fact, the Reds GM, Walt Jocketty, received about as much interest from other teams about Griffey as he did with, say, Corey Patterson.
Which is good for both Griffey and the Reds.
Jocketty can now move the organization forward with an eye towards the future without having to worry about the fallout from not picking up Griffey's $16-million option this offseason. The next generation—a core consisting of Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Joey Votto, among other young talented players—has arrived.
And while Griffey has finally stayed on the field enough to play in 102 games, all of the injuries, age and declining bat speed have taken a toll. His swing is still a thing of beauty, and he has brought back many happy memories on each of his classic 15 home run strokes. However, he has only produced a line of .245/.355/.432, posting a low OPS (.787) for a right fielder.
Although Griffey made a rather insulting gesture to announcer Jeff Brantley last week—when hitting a home run, no less—about his option for next year, it would not have been in the Reds' best interest for them to pick it up. He has done many great things in the past, but, at 38 years old, he is no longer a star and will only continue to decline. He is always a risk to get hurt, of course, and was almost certainly unlikely be part of the next truly great Cincinnati postseason team. Essentially, the franchise would have been crazy to bring him back at such a high price. In his eyes, the organization owed it to him he made it seem with his actions, perhaps as a favor for taking less money before.
Handing out favors and keeping the manager—Dusty Baker, who is close with Junior—happy are nice. Wins, and a potential future postseason run, are better.
Griffey is no longer the same Gold-Glove-caliber outfielder, either. To put it simply, he has lost not only one step, but two. Crashing into walls will do that a man.
Which makes the American League, where he can receive at-bats at designated hitter, an ideal place for him.
Going to Chicago, Griffey will also benefit for other reasons as well. The White Sox are the favorite to bring home the American League Central division crown. Wearing the black and white, he has the chance to play for a winner for the first time since his days with the Mariners. Back then, Randy Johnson was the best pitcher in the game, A-Rod had not yet mingled with Madonna and Joey Cora, his new bench coach, was still playing a mean second base.
While it is uncertain where he will play, he was smart to sign off on the deal and reunite with his old pal, Cora. However, the White Sox's outfield is set in all three spots—with Jermaine Dye in right, Carlos Quentin in left and Nick Swisher in center—and DH Jim Thome (.885 OPS, 19 homers) is having a nice season in his own right. So, it remains to be seen how much of and where he will make an impact in the Windy City.
Hypothetically speaking, Swisher, who is not a true center fielder, may move back to first base. This will potentially send struggling first baseman Paul Konkerko (.661 OPS, nine home runs) to the bench on occasion. But can Griffey still handle such a demanding position? With a playoff berth at stake, it might not be worth the risk. His range has declined, he has not played there on a regular basis in two years and it remains to be seen if he can physically handle the rigors of the position.
Still, Griffey, who hit 30 home runs and posted an OPS in the mid-.800s in 2007, could make a nice comeback to help Chicago in its quest to reach the postseason. Moving into the other league, he is a candidate to regain his power stroke with the chance to turn a nice performance down the stretch into a multi-year contract this winter. Also, the White Sox essentially gave up nothing to acquire his services, sending reliever Nick Masset and Triple-A second baseman Danny Richar back to the Reds. Masset is a typical major league bullpen arm who is easily replaceable. Richar, a 25-year-old middle infielder, projects as only a backup to Brandon Phillips.
Either way, Griffey is closer to a ring with the White Sox than he ever has been with the Reds.
By getting his contract off the books, though, Cincinnati is now closer to playing meaningful baseball games in the future as well.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.