Thursday, January 06, 2000

Bowden eats free in Griffey game




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jim Bowden may be the first baseball executive to get a standing ovation for standing pat.

        He can't go out to eat anymore without someone picking up his check. He can't go to the grocery store without getting unsolicited endorsements in the frozen foods aisle. The Cincinnati Reds general manager is discovering that the next-best thing to getting Ken Griffey Jr. is getting him at the right time at the right price.

        “I don't think I've ever gone on a streak like I've been on,” Bowden said Wednesday afternoon. “When I go out for dinner, I never get a chance to pay for my meal. Someone will see me and pick up the check or the owner will say, "I'm going to take care of you, Mr. Bowden. Put it toward Ken Griffey Jr.' Everything's positive. People would love to have Griffey here, but they don't want us to give up (Pokey) Reese or (Sean) Casey.”

        Several prominent members of the sporting press have wondered in print (and/or cyberspace) how Bowden can afford to wait; how he can allow a player of Reese's modest stature to stand in the way of the most exciting acquisition of the age.

        Some analysts act as if Griffey were a perishable commodity and not a great player one year away from free agency. These are the same sort of panicky people who make easy prey for car dealers.

        “Silly people say the Reds are better off waiting a year,” ESPN analyst Peter Gammons wrote this week. “But there are two huge pressures prompting Bowden to get it done by spring training.”

Why give up players?
        Gammons says the Reds could miss out on $20-$25 million in additional revenue if they wait a year to sign Griffey. He says waiting increases the risk that the Atlanta Braves will become active bidders. He sounds a lot like Chicken Little.

        The fact is that the Reds hold the winning hand in this high-stakes poker game, and that Bowden is not about to be bluffed.

        “Why would you give up a key player,” Bowden asks, “when you don't have to?”

        Bowden knows that the list of teams to which Griffey will accept a trade begins and ends with the Reds. He knows Seattle General Manager Pat Gillick has his hands tied so tightly that he can't even wiggle his fingers. He knows, too, that Reds Chief Operating Officer John Allen won't approve any deal that blows the budget and ransacks the farm system.

        If the Mariners do not reduce their demands, the Reds can sign Ken Griffey Jr. next winter and lose none of their nucleus. If waiting a year costs the club some short-term revenue, it would also delay a huge expense until the Reds were better positioned to exploit Griffey's presence (with a stadium under construction).

        If there are “huge pressures” on Bowden, as Gammons claims, Seattle's Gillick must be weighted down like Jacob Marley.

        The Mariners might elect to keep Griffey and make a run at the 2000 playoffs, but doing so would create a season-long soap opera and likely retard the team's long-term growth. Such a course is not implausible, but it is enormously illogical.

Three-way scenarios
        One of the reasons rumors continue to circulate about three-way trades is that most observers recognize that Gillick needs to move Griffey and that he wants to save face. If the Mariners can only deal with the Reds — and they can't seem to deal with them directly — Gillick needs another team to act as a go-between.

        Talk persists of a three-way trade involving the Reds, Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates. All parties have denied the rumor, and Bowden continues to quash similar speculation involving the Kansas City Royals.

        Still, if this deal is dead, it sure shows a lot of life. Club officials have been told that a Griffey trade would likely vault the Reds to No. 2 in worldwide baseball merchandising, behind only the New York Yankees. Griffey's camp has let it leak that he would take less money (and a lot of it deferred) to play for the Reds.

        Both sides want to get something done. Bet on the Mariners to blink.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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