SweetSpot: Ken Griffey
- After a players-only meeting to discuss the issue – and a pair of anonymous players who triggered the most controversial part of it – Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said Ken Griffey Jr. was not asleep in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game in Seattle.
One player said he’d seen Junior asleep at his locker in the seventh inning of that game, an inning before catcher Rob Johnson came to bat, and a second player confirmed the account.
Since it was my blog that sparked all this, players approached me after their meeting to ask if I’d identify the two guys I’d interviewed. I wouldn’t – if there’s heat from all this, it’s on me, not two guys who answered my questions.
I was also told a number of players were angry and hurt by the blog, and that it would be best not trying to talk to them for a few days. Given my job, that’s not possible. I had to try and did, and many passed.
That’s part of my job, and maybe part of theirs, too.
Look, the problem isn't that Griffey was taking a nap in the seventh inning. I mean, that's a problem; for me, anyway, it takes a few minutes to really wake up after a nap. So even if Junior was sitting next to his manager in the eighth inning, that doesn't necessarily mean he was as alert as you'd like your pinch-hitter to be.
But again, that's just a problem rather than the problem. Or rather, the problems. One problem is that this has become a huge story. The other problem is that two Mariners don't have Junior's back.
Oh, and there's a third problem: At the moment, the two dominant personalities on the roster, Sleepy Junior and Angry Sweeney, can't hit.
Mike Sweeney's angry because there are a couple of snitches in the clubhouse. But you know, it's frustrating, when you're a young man and you're losing games because old men -- old men who shouldn't be on the roster at all -- are routinely failing.
Three problems, and two solutions: 1) Old guys start hitting, or 2) Old guys removed from roster.
Which of those do you find more likely?
For those wondering how much longer Ken Griffey Jr.'s run will last with the Seattle Mariners, Tacoma News Tribune beat writer Larry LaRue has an answer.
LaRue wrote a blog post this morning speculating the end is near for Junior and not just because he's struggling to produce at the plate.
LaRue, who has been covering the Mariners since 1988, says two different players told him Griffey wasn't called on to pinch hit late in a game last week because he'd gone back into the clubhouse and fallen asleep.
You can read LaRue's blog post here.
LaRue feels the story is an example of how Griffey isn't as engaged with this year's team as he was last year and speculates his time with the Mariners will be done before the end of this month, either with the veteran retiring or being released.
Unfortunately, when I tried to access LaRue's blog post, it was gone. Probably just a glitch, but whenever something disappears from the Web, our minds do leap to the possibility that something was pulled because someone's in trouble; certainly the Mariners, organizationally speaking, would not be thrilled with such a story, true or not.
As Johns points out, "The problem, of course, is not just that Griffey was tired the other night in the clubhouse. It's that his bat is tired as well."
I wish I'd been wrong about Griffey and Mike Sweeney and the Mariners. They're my closest team, and a spirited competition between them and the Angels, or them and the Angels and the Rangers, or them and the Angels and the Rangers and the Athletics would have been interesting.
Hey, maybe one of those things will still happen. But the Mariners began the season in a hole they dug for themselves. And to this point they still haven't stopped digging.
- Ken Griffey, Jr. hit home run number 14 Monday night, part of a two-hit, two RBI night that led to a 3-1 Seattle victory over the Athletics. Griffey provided little offense this season, and given the Mariners competitiveness this season, a DH who could actually hit might have put them much closer to the playoff race.
Griffey, however, is finishing strong. So far in August he's posting a .371 OBA and a .519 slugging percentage. He's hit four home runs and drove in 13 runs, the RBI a one-month high for him this season. In what may be his last season, Junior is at least going out on a high note.
Sure, they might be a few games closer to sort of contending for something. But if they'd been closer a month ago, they might not have traded Jarrod Washburn for a couple of legitimate prospects. Also, if they'd consigned Griffey to the bench back in May or June, they presumably wouldn't have sold quite as many tickets as they have. And finally, if they'd replaced Griffey with Mike Carp (or whoever) earlier this summer, they might have started an arbitration/free-agency clock earlier than otherwise.
Whether for the right reasons or the wrong reasons, the decision to blow 372 plate appearances (so far) on an aging-if-popular slugger seems to have worked out quite nicely for the organization. Now, if they bring him back next year ...
- A vote based purely on a Sabermetric analysis would have its pitfalls as well. There was one year when a star player told a couple of writers that he would never speak to them again if they voted for a certain rival on their ballots, a situation that threatened to undermine that team's clubhouse; and after confirming that appalling story, there's no way I would've ever voted for that player for M.V.P., a situation that a SABR-like approach would've never addressed. In short - yes, I think the writers do the best possible job on the voting because they have the ability to meld all the factors mentioned above. (Now, the question of whether writers should be involved in the voting - and creating news - is another ethical question altogether.)
However, I will report that I was in Seattle in 1996, when Alex Rodriguez would have edged Juan Gonzalez for the MVP if both Seattle voters hadn't listed Ken Griffey, Jr. first on their ballots. Ever since, there have been rumors that Junior or Alex or both were clear to the writers about their favorite candidates. And I'm told by an unimpeachable source that Rodriguez, 13 years later, still holds a grudge against those two voters.
Delicious, right? Someday, when all the involved scribes have taken the Murray Chass career path, we'll know all. In the mean time, feel free to speculate in the comments.
- It's a true conundrum. At this point, I'm in the midst of a transformation from the "sell" to "buy" camp. The Mariners won me over, to a certain extent, by holding their own on that road trip against the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox, and by continuing to win. And even though the Angels are torrid right now, I don't think they're the same slam-dunk favorites they have been in recent years. Of course, if they land Roy Halladay or Dan Haren (that's something else Zduriencik has to weigh -- the Angels' potential for making an impact trade), then all bets are off.
I'd really like to see what this team could do with a little more offense. If Zduriencik can get a big bat -- and I won't even speculate on names at this point; that's a post for another time -- I'd go for it, though I'd stay away from "rent a player" types. I'd even consider trading guys like Jeff Clement, Greg Halman and, gulp, Brandon Morrow in the right deal (as well as Wladimir Balentien, no questions asked). But only for an offensive piece that will help them in 2010.
One, the Mariners have been outscored this season. They're 49-43 but they've got the run differential of a 45-47 team, and if they were 45-47 they would be seven games behind the Angels rather than four. Which seems pretty important ... until you notice that the Angels have been exceptionally lucky, too. The Angels are 52-38 but have the run differential of a 48-42 team. The Rangers are the only one team among the contenders that's hitting its expected record. Essentially, none of them have been world-beaters and all of them can realistically think about first place.
Two -- and here's the real point to my little essay, and it's a point I've made before -- the Mariners don't need to look far for "a little more offense." They've got a little more offense wasting away in the Pacific Coast League.
Mike Carp, who got a little five-game tryout last month, has a .273/.387/.466 line with Tacoma (he's slumped a bit since the M's sent him down) and might give the M's a little from the DH slot than they're getting from Ken Griffey Jr.
You can't bench Griffey because the fans love him? OK. But do the fans love Ryan Langerhans, too? If not, why is Langerhans playing left field when top prospect Michael Saunders has a .312/.381/.541 line with Tacoma this season?
The Mariners have a chance to win, and if I were a Mariners fan I would want them to try. But winning would require a fair amount of luck and getting all the organization's talent on the field for as many games as possible. And right now that's not happening.
- Such sights, however, have been rare during Griffey's return to Seattle for what many believe will be the 39-year-old's farewell season. His career-low batting average of .219, seven home runs and 22 RBIs were not what Seattle hoped for when it sought to add power to its weak offense.
But nobody in the clubhouse has disparaged Griffey's contributions to the team's surprising 35-34 start. He is credited for helping to improve the toxic atmosphere of a team that finished 61-101 last season and has provided star power and leadership to a roster rife with journeymen, underachieving youth and bloated contracts.
"He likes to have fun, he likes to joke around, he's loose, he keeps everybody else loose," Seattle pitcher Jarrod Washburn said. "As much as his [batting] numbers may not show it, he's still a huge presence in the lineup. He gets walked an awful lot just because he's Ken Griffey Jr. Whether he's swinging the bat well or not."
I cannot quantify Griffey's contributions to the Mariners' chemistry because 1) I'm not there, and 2) chemistry is non-quantifiable. If Washburn says it's good to have Griffey around, I'm inclined to believe him. And while Griffey's .219 batting average is uninspiring (to say the least), he's drawn enough walks and hit enough home runs that -- and here's the real problem -- among the 11 Mariners with at least 100 plate appearances, he's got the third-best OPS.
The M's are last in the league in scoring, and they've earned that distinction with the second-worst on-base percentage and the second-worst slugging percentage in the league. Griffey's not really the problem ... but he's no part of the solution, either. The solution is to get better hitters into the lineup, and it just so happens that of the available options for doing that, almost all of them play the two positions that Griffey can play.
With Chavez out, the options in left field seem to be Griffey and Wladimir Balentien. You know about Griffey. Balentien's got a .263 OBP in nearly 400 plate appearances in the majors; he's been a bust and should probably just be released.
Or maybe not. Balentien turns 25 next week and his minor-league stats do suggest that he can play a little bit. But he's not an every-day solution in left field, right now. A Balentien/Griffey platoon might not be terrible. Well, except for the brutal defense.
Which is why the M's should, right now, turn to prospect Michael Saunders in left field. Just 22, Saunders has rocketed through the minors, hitting at almost every stop and ranking as one of the better defensive outfielders in the organization. He might not hit as much as Balentien/Griffey would -- not right now, anyway -- but he'll make up for that deficiency with his glove. Endy Chavez was in the lineup for his defense. So why not Saunders?
That leaves only the DH slot for Griffey ... but the M's have a superior candidate there, too. Last week the M's called up Mike Carp -- who turns 23 next week, and is another fruit of the trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mets -- and he can hit, right now. Carp's OBP in Double-A last year was .403; this year in Triple-A it was .412, and he'll jack the occasional homer, too.
Like Griffey, Carp bats left-handed. Like Griffey, Carp's pretty useless anywhere but the batter's box and really should be allowed to wear a floppy leather glove only in an emergency.
All this might be moot, except somehow the Mariners are only two-and-a-half games out of first place in what might be the worst division in the majors. Now, maybe the M's should give up anyway. Trade any veterans who will bring in a few fresh-faced prospects. But they can't have it both ways. If they're going to try to win, they should try to win, and that means letting the talented kids play instead of the old guy who keeps everybody loose.