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February 11, 2000

Prospectus Roundtable

Ken Griffey Trade

by Baseball Prospectus

On Thursday, three months of speculation came to an end as the Seattle Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds for Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, shortstop prospect Antonio Perez and relief prospect Jake Meyer. For more information on Perez and Meyer, take a look at their Davenport Translations.

Keith Law: I think the Mariners just got hosed, and badly. They trade Griffey without getting Travis Dawkins, Scott Williamson or Rob Bell, and they don't take advantage of the Reds' surplus of outfielders to grab a throw-in like Michael Tucker.

If they do consummate a Tomko/Cameron for Jim Edmonds deal, they'll have set some sort of record for lunacy in a single trade chain: Ken Griffey Jr. for an exciting, oft-injured, impending free-agent center fielder, a potentially outstanding teenage shortstop prospect and a 25-year-old reliever who just got pasted in Double-A.

Of course, I really can't stand Lou Piniella, so I'm hardly upset by this.

Keith Woolner: So let me get this straight:

The Mariners didn't get Williamson. They didn't get Dawkins. They didn't get Bell. They didn't get Dennis Reyes. They didn't get Danny Graves. They didn't even get Denny Neagle.

Instead, they got a couple of 27-year-olds. One is a disappointing pitcher, the other a decent, but not star-level, outfielder who's already close to arbitration. They also got a couple of prospects. All this for one of the best players in the history of the game still in his prime.

About the best thing you can say about the Mariners in this deal is that they didn't get Pokey Reese.

Jeff Bower: Sure, they got hosed. And depending on what you believe, you can trace it back to their inability to determine that Reese is not a good ballplayer. Had they not been so hell-bent on getting Reese, they might have landed Cameron, Williamson, Neagle and Dawkins.

Of course, depending on how smart you think Bowden is, maybe they wouldn't have. If it wasn't Reese the Mariners wanted, Bowden may have made somebody else that Gillick asked for "untouchable." It's hard for me to believe that that Bowden didn't know fairly early on in the process that the only place Griffey wanted to play was Cincinnati. What with Griffey Sr. a coach, Barry Larkin a neighbor, etc., it certainly seems that word leaked back to the Reds' front office before it was made public. Once as he knew that, Bowden just played a waiting game.

Having watched them go through the Randy Johnson ordeal, Bowden knew the Mariners would eventually cave. Especially with Griffey--who tends to be vocal--getting nervous about the prospects of facing the fans in Seattle after announcing that he was going to leave town after the 2000 season. With spring training just a few days away, all Bowden had to do was throw Gillick some scraps.

Jeff Hildebrand: The Mariners were in an awful position in that they had already been hosed by Griffey announcing that he'd only accept a trade to the Reds. The Reds had little to gain from upping their offer. Having Griffey for this year will be nice, but they knew they would be the frontrunners to sign him after next year as a free agent, and if they gave up someone like Neagle, they would be hurting their chances for this year, so what was the point?

If you want to play devil's advocate, you could argue that Cameron is heading into his late 20s and could have a couple of strong years, plus the Mariners get a pitcher who has shown talent but has been screwed over by his own coaching staff. I don't really buy it, since even a sub-par Griffey year is likely to be better than a career Cameron year, and Tomko will merely be the latest sacrifice to Mt. Pinella, but an argument could be made. Perhaps argument is too strong. Rationalization would be better.

KW: I may have undervalued Antonio Perez in my assessment, but this seems like a lot less than the Astros got for Mike Hampton.

Keith Law: Even if you did undervalue Perez, he's only 18, hasn't played above low-A, and doesn't look like Alex Rodriguez did or Sean Burroughs does now. He wasn't among our Top 40 Prospects.

Rany Jazayerli: Perez did have a nice year for a 17-year-old: .288/.376/.410 with 35 steals (and 24 times caught). He posted a .229 EqA, which is pretty impressive at 17. I'd give him a 30-35% chance of being in our Top 20 next year.

JH: How Perez develops will make the difference between this being a bad trade for Seattle and a spectacularly awful trade. Any time you have to pin your hopes on a kid who hasn't made it past low-A ball, you've got a problem.

Joe Sheehan: If the Mariners can get Edmonds cheaply, they salvage something. I doubt they will.

JB: You may already be aware of this, but Edmonds has said that if traded, he would not re-sign with the Mariners. He has no interest in playing for Seattle. I can't remember where I heard this, but supposedly he can't stand Safeco Field (Griffey also has those sentiments). It's ironic that the edifice that was supposed to save baseball in the Emerald City is instead driving some players away.

Do we even want to get into the ramifications of his contract? The 30-year-old voted the Best Player of the 1990s signed a nine-year deal for $112.5M. Less than Kevin Brown's seven-year, $105M of a year ago, and far less than the eight-year, $140M that Mike Ilitch is supposedly ready to pay a player who isn't even among the 20 best in the game.

RJ: It bothers me that everyone reports that Juan Gonzalez has been offered eight years, $140M. He's already under contract for one year at $7.5M, so in reality, it's a seven-year extension for $132.5M. In other words, the Tigers don't think he's worth paying $17.5M a year; they think he's worth paying $18.9 per! Actually, it would work out to even more, because he gets a signing bonus up front along with a bigger salary in 2000 than he would have made.

The same thing applies to Griffey, though certainly not enough to change the fact that he's signing for way below market value. For all the problems I have with the way Griffey went about getting what he wanted, I won't deny that when he said he wanted to play in Cincinnati, he meant it.

JB: It was tough to not lose my lunch when at the Reds' press conference, their owner described the deal as "more a gift to the city of Cincinnati" than a smart financial move.

Dave Pease: At the end of the deal, Griffey will be an old man, but he'll probably still be an excellent hitter. Given the whole hometown aspect of the deal, and the fact that he's immensely popular and a heck of a player, this is a great advantage for a perennially disadvantaged Cincinnati team.

If Junior slowly turns into Tony Gwynn over the length of the deal, the Reds still win. Heck, if he turns into Chris Gwynn they'll probably come out ahead.

JS: Griffey is probably the biggest bargain in baseball right now, and while I'm sure Gene Orza and Don Fehr are horrified, I wonder what effect this will have. It's going to be real hard for Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez, et al to ask for a lot more than what he's getting. On the other hand, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez can still push the envelope.

JH:: So is it too soon to start speculating on whether reputation will overtake reality in next year's Gold Glove race between Griffey and Andruw Jones? My guess is that Jones is just established enough that he'll properly hold onto the award, but I'm not certain.

RJ: Griffey and Jones will probably both get Gold Gloves, leaving Larry Walker and Barry Bonds to fight over the third one, unless someone else--Shawn Green?--squeezes past them.

JS:In the bigger picture, does anyone think this will be picked up by the national media as an indication of "player as investment" as opposed to "player as cost," and an example of what nominally "small-market" teams can really do?

JH: I suspect it'll get written off as a hometown discount, which it pretty obviously is. It's a lot less money than he could have gotten from the Mariners, and the contracts being signed by others make it pretty clear he could have gotten more on the open market. I suspect the Players Association will be kind of ticked off about it since they always seems to be unhappy with these sorts of signings, but overall it's not a big deal. The spin will be that the Reds got a bargain, not that it sets any sort of precedent for further deals.

I don't see this winding up as an example of what "small markets" can do if they treat players as investments, precisely because of the hometown factor. The two possible outcomes I see are that it gets viewed as a favor Griffey did for Cincinnati, or even worse, if Bowden assembles enough good young talent to surround him, once the Reds move into the new stadium they will be magically reclassified as "large market."

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