While all the teams in baseball search for additions to their rosters before the July 31st trade deadline, the Atlanta Braves just added three former All-Stars. Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, and Chipper Jones are back now, and soon they’ll add another pretty good veteran in John Thomson.
But don’t you dare think that precludes this organization from making a deal soon.
This has got to be General Manager John Schuerholz’s favorite time of the year – at least history shows it is. In the previous fourteen years he’s been Atlanta’s GM, he’s made trades on the deadline day (July 31st) or later in all but two seasons (1994 and 2002). So you can bet he’s doing all he can to make sure this team is set for the playoffs, and it’s very possible he could make a deal or two to ensure just that.
When looking at the current roster, especially now with three-fourths of the injured major players back, it’s a little difficult to see a huge weakness. This team is knocking on first place’s door because they’ve played very well in the last month. But a team doesn’t always make a deal just because there’s a glaring need; instead a trade can also be made when there’s a player available that could dramatically help your roster.
We’ve discussed how reliever Billy Wagner could be that type player, but the Phillies are not cooperating by remaining in the race. But there’s another player that is supposedly on the market that could also fit that bill.
Ken Griffey, Jr. has wanted to be a Brave for years. Yeah, he went to Cincinnati when the Mariners traded him before the 2000 season – he almost had to. Tradition was calling him home as much as anything else. But now, six years later, Griffey is available again, and all accounts have him wanting to come to another one of his dad’s former teams.
It’s obvious from a discussion on the BravesCenter message board in the last few days that the original thought from most fans when debating this topic is, “Why should the Braves take on Griffey’s huge contract?” Well, let’s refute that right now. Griffey’s contract is not an albatross, and in fact it could be a major reason the Braves should (or possibly already have) inquire about him.
Griffey’s contract, signed when traded to the Reds, calls for him to make $12.5 million per season through 2008. However, $6.5 million of that $12.5 million dollars is deferred, and even though it’s a little unclear as to how much of that deferred money must be funded each season (which might count against a team’s payroll), it’s obvious that the contract for a player of Griffey’s caliber is not extraordinary.
Of course, another question that would naturally be asked is which Griffey would a team be acquiring? Would it be the Griffey that averaged 43.8 home runs and 109.1 RBI’s in the 1990s? Or would it be the Griffey that has stayed hurt for most of his time in Cincinnati and averaged only 20.6 home runs and 58.4 RBI over the last five seasons?
So far this season, Griffey’s best since 2000, he’s been somewhere in between. The now 35-year-old Griffey has hit .287 with 20 home runs and 62 RBI. His numbers are pretty solid across the board. He might not be the same player that averaged 52 home runs over the last four years of the 90’s, but he’s still a very good player when healthy.
Do the Braves need him? Well perhaps the better question is: Do the Braves want to go into the stretch drive and perhaps into the playoffs with two rookies in the outfield? Kelly Johnson has been extremely impressive, but he has been inconsistent. You could say the same thing about Ryan Langerhans, yet another rookie. And Jeff Francoeur has really not played enough since he’s in a strict platoon with Langerhans to know if he can be counted on for full-time duty.
I don’t think there’s much question that if Griffey were placed in Atlanta’s current lineup, it would improve it tremendously. Just think of having a threesome of Griffey, Andruw, and Chipper in the middle of the lineup. Wow. That would make any opposing pitcher worried. Having another powerful left-handed bat in the lineup would make it stronger, and I’m a believer that reputation goes a long way in the mind game against a pitcher, and there’s no doubt that an opposing pitcher would be hard pressed to face a better threesome than that group.
As most of you know, I’m one of the biggest supporters of our young players. I have tremendous confidence in Johnson, Langerhans, and especially Francoeur. There’s no doubt that they have great talent and even better potential. But this is Ken Griffey, Jr., and if he’s healthy, he’s one hell of a player.
This just smells like something John Schuerholz would pull off. With the rumors out that the Reds would pay half of Griffey’s remaining salary to trade him, it begs to wonder how much that financial assistance might push Schuerholz into making a deal. He somehow got the Marlins and Rockies to pay a large part of Mike Hampton’s salary, and if he could get the Reds to pay half of Griffey’s salary, it may be his biggest coup yet.
But again, here’s another question: how could Schuerholz structure a deal for the Reds to pay half? Could he, for instance, convince them to pay half of his base salary (which would mean the Braves would only pay $3 million a season to Griffey for each of the next three seasons) and then half of his deferred money for those same seasons (which would not have to be worried about for many years)?
Could he, for instance, convince the Reds to pay all of the deferred payments for the next three seasons, meaning the Braves would only be responsible for $18 million dollars to Griffey between 2006-2008? Or could he, for instance, somehow convince the Reds to pay all of the current base salary, leaving the Braves with the responsibility of simply paying the deferred payments of Griffey’s salary, which wouldn’t have to be worried about for many, many years?
Griffey has said to his friends that he would do anything to play for a contender, and especially Atlanta. So would he help the Braves even more by restructuring his deal? Maybe.
The other worry, obviously, would be the price the Braves would have to pay to the Reds to get Griffey, especially if they were to pay half of his remaining salary. Well, the Reds can always use pitching, and any team dealing with Atlanta would be foolish not to ask for pitching. So you can bet there would be at least one arm and possibly two going to the Reds in a Griffey deal.
There are two other areas the Reds could use help at: first base and catcher. Sean Casey could also be traded this month, and it’s obvious that the Reds would prefer another cheaper first baseman. The Braves have two first baseman (Scott Thorman and James Jurries) in the minors currently blocked by Adam LaRoche, so that’s a possibility. And Cincinnati could use a catcher that would be better than Jason LaRue. Would the Braves consider trading Johnny Estrada, especially with Brian McCann showing he might be ready to take over soon as the starter? Or would the Reds demand McCann or Myrtle Beach catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in any deal?
It would be unlikely the Reds would want third baseman Andy Marte. They already have a top-notch young third base prospect themselves in Edwin Encarnacion. And if the Reds traded Griffey, they’d simply bring up Austin Kearns from AAA, negating the need for an outfielder in any deal with Atlanta.
With the tremendous play of the rookies on the current Atlanta roster, fans are going to be gun shy of hearing of any deal including Atlanta’s young talent. If the Braves trade for Griffey, the Reds are going to get some of that talent. And the worry is the possibility of Griffey getting hurt again and then seeing some of that young talent flourish with the Reds – not to mention Griffey further blocking the young outfielders like Francoeur and Johnson from getting full-time playing time.
As a reporter and columnist, I’m supposed to take a position and stand by it, but honestly this is something I’m glad I don’t have to decide. If the Reds were to make the contract just too good to pass up, I’d be hard-pressed to not go after Griffey, and that’s why I think Schuerholz should (and probably already has) look into the situation. The thought of Griffey in our lineup is very, very tempting. It might make us the favorite to win the World Series this year, and while the future is important, there’s no doubt the desire for this team to win another ring is the most pressing manner.
Mr. Schuerholz has made these decisions before, and let’s just be glad he’s in the position to make the call. It could be one of the most important decisions in his career.
Bill Shanks’s new book is Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Please check the BravesCenter.com Message Board at mb12.scout.com/fatlantabravesfrm1 for a schedule of Bill’s book tour. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.