Time to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back in 2010
All signs are pointing to Ken Griffey Jr. signing for another season in Seattle. Why not?
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Just bring him back.
Ken Griffey Jr.'s future will likely be decided in the next few days, as agent Brian Goldberg resumes discussions with the Mariners. All signs are pointing toward a return engagement of the greatest player ever to wear a Mariners uniform.
In fact, I'm going to predict that it will happen.
To which I say, "I'm tickled."
And so, upon their first meeting in spring training, will be Ichiro. Literally.
I'm not saying it's a no-brainer, because you can make a sound case why the Mariners should move on and pursue Life After Junior.
But I have come to believe, after much pondering of the pros and cons, that the case for bringing Griffey back is even stronger.
There's the obvious sentimental and emotional ties he has to the fan base, who gave him unconditional love last year in his comeback season. Griffey's return in 2010 would make a large majority of them very happy, despite the vocal group that advocate a parting of the ways. What's wrong with making the fans happy?
There's the undeniable positive impact Griffey had, and would continue to have, in the Mariners' clubhouse, which made a miraculous turnaround from dysfunctional in '08 to love central last year. Griffey wasn't totally responsible for the transformation, but he had a large part in it.
Griffey was an amazingly positive force last year, unfailingly upbeat, unwaveringly supportive of his teammates, nothing close to the diva or prima donna that some feared the Mariners were bringing aboard.
He didn't gripe when he didn't play center field. He didn't gripe when he didn't play the field at all. He didn't gripe when he moved into a platoon at designated hitter.
And now Goldberg is saying that Griffey will not make an issue out of money or playing time if he returns in 2010.
So what's wrong with keeping one of the true legends of major-league baseball — a steroids-free one, from every indication — as the most decorated, and most content, role player in history?
That would seem to be the likely intent of the Mariners: Have Griffey play designated hitter one or two days a week, perhaps left field another day, and be available to pinch-hit late on other days.
That sounds like the perfect scenario for a 40-year-old slugger. Yet I could envision a circumstance where it could build into a larger role. Let's say the Mariners are unable to land a veteran free-agent bat at DH, or perhaps a youngster like Mike Saunders doesn't pan out in left field. Maybe an injury crops up. With the latest repair of his left knee, Griffey could conceivably find a friskiness in his step and a revitalization of his bat that would earn him increasing playing time.
And if not, I truly believe he'll accept his role and do everything he can to help the team win — including throwing playful pies in the face of the players that would be taking his playing time.
The motivation for Griffey to come back at age 40 is, obviously, because he still loves the game and thrives in the clubhouse environment. But I'd have to think part of it is one last chance, in his 22nd year, to get to his elusive first World Series. It's still a longshot, but more realistic than anyone would have imagined a year ago.
Now to the matter of what Griffey might have left. There's no sugarcoating the fact that .214 is .214. That's what he hit last year in 387 at-bats. But — not to be a Griffey apologist — there are a few factors to point out.
One, he led the team in base on balls despite playing in just 117 games. As I wrote Sunday, that's a sign that he still commands respect. It's also a sign that pitchers didn't seem to have similar respect for the hitters behind Griffey — something he had the grace to never complain about. Griffey was fighting a constant battle between maintaining plate discipline and feeling the necessity to go out of the strike zone to try to fulfill the role of a cleanup hitter and drive in runs.
I wrote Sunday that Griffey's power numbers — 19 homers and 57 runs batted in — projected to 26 and 80 over a 162-game season. As a few readers pointed out in e-mails, that was selling Griffey short, because of pinch-hitting appearances or being removed for defense.
To truly project over 162 games, I should have projected plate appearances over a full season and extrapolated from there, which would have left him closer to 30 and 90 — in a season he didn't have protection behind him. Obviously, no one but vintage Cal Ripken Jr. plays 162 games for nine innings, but I did use the term "162-game season," so fair is fair.
I believe Griffey still has something to offer. He can tickle Ichiro, bring laughter to the clubhouse, hit an occasional bomb and take one more crack at October.
Sounds great to me.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.