Saturday, December 04, 1999

The Griffey story: Real and imagined




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        My friend from The Sporting News was on the phone Friday, looking for 2,000 well-chosen words on the imminent trade involving Ken Griffey Jr.

        I was flattered by the call, but I was panicked by the news. Junior to the Reds? Can it be true? Is there headline type big enough for that blockbuster? Are there any new adjectives available?

        Or is this just another aggravating false alarm?

        “There's no truth to it,” Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said Friday afternoon. “There's no progress. There's certain young players we're not going to trade. There's been no breakthrough whatsoever.”

        Bowden spoke with Mariners General Manager Pat Gillick again Friday. He calculated that he has made between 10 and 15 separate offers for Seattle's splendid center fielder. “Different combinations,” Bowden said. “Different players, too. Not just the same players six different ways.”

        There's been no deal to date, because Bowden steadfastly refuses to part with first baseman Sean Casey or second baseman Pokey Reese. Yet that hasn't stopped the spread of speculation, or rumors from being reported as fact.

        Rob Butcher, the Reds' ever-vigilant publicist, was caught flat-footed when someone in the Colorado Rockies office inquired whether the Griffey press conference was scheduled for Friday or Saturday. Butcher has had his press release prepared for weeks, but he's still waiting for word to have copies printed.

Truth hard to find
        Truth is often the first casualty of trade talks, and the problem only intensifies when a high-profile player becomes openly available. All parties with a vested interest — ownership, management, players and agents — have a vital interest in creating spin, and all media outlets have a need to sound authoritative and/or fill space. One man's gossip is another man's grist.

        Gillick's job is to maximize the market for Griffey — or to create the illusion of competitive bidding in order to raise the price. Bowden's job is to bid responsibly, knowing that Griffey can veto any trade he doesn't like, that Cincinnati is home, and that Ken Griffey Sr. is the Reds' bench coach.

        That Junior is eligible for free agency at the end of next season can only diminish his trade value. That only a few clubs can afford him shrinks the market even more.

        There's a pervasive feeling in the baseball community that the Reds are basically bidding against themselves — that no other team is so eager to acquire Griffey with one year remaining on his contract. If this is the case, Bowden would be wise to wait, to force Gillick to cut his losses with a below-market deal. If it is not the case, Bowden can make another run at Griffey on the free-agent market next year.

Take him for test drive
        There are numerous reasons to move now. One would be to secure the home-field advantage for Griffey's next contract. Another would be to provide Reds ownership the opportunity for a test drive.

        If Ken Griffey Jr. is the gate attraction Bowden believes him to be, one year at Cinergy Field could ease the financial concerns of Carl Lindner & Co. If he does not have a dramatic impact on attendance, the Reds would be obligated to pay only his $8.5 million salary for one season.

        “From my perspective, if we trade for Ken Griffey now, I certainly think there's an economic way to make it work,” Bowden said. “(Ownership) could be persuaded if the fans let the Reds know we want Ken Griffey Jr. not just for 2000, but beyond.”

        The argument against grabbing Griffey is that it surely would disrupt a team that succeeded in winning 96 games without him. Even if Casey and Reese remain untouchable, Bowden probably would have to part with Rookie of the Year reliever Scott Williamson, and some combination of Mike Cameron, Dmitri Young, Denny Neagle and prospects.

        “We understand Ken Griffey Jr. is the Player of the Decade,” Bowden said. “We know we have to give up a lot. I can't say seven guys are untouchable when it comes to Junior.”

        He can't say he has a deal done, either. Until further notice, Ken Griffey Jr. remains a false alarm in Redsland.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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