So, Bob Finnigan is rumor mongering about his favorite story again. With as many times as he’s tried to bring this thing back from the dead, you’d think he laid $1,000 on a 100-1 longshot in vegas that Jr finishes his career with the M’s. Or, perhaps, he just enjoys writing speculative columns with no real substance? Regardless of his motivation, he has drug up this same tired column one more time, which always leads to a lot of emails asking if we think trading for Griffey would be a good idea. In a word: no freaking way. Okay, that’s three words, but you get the point. Here’s the basics:
Griffey has five years and $66 million remaining on his contract. While over $6 million per year is deferred from 2009-2024, his salary would count against the budget at $12.94 million per season, while the actual payout would be around $7 million per year during the length of the contract. The contract will keep Jr playing from his age 34 through 38 seasons, also known as the precipitous decline phase of one’s career. Considering the current market, it should be clear to just about everyone that Ken Griffey Jr. would not have received a 5 year, $65 million contract if he was a free agent. Clearly, acquiring this salary would be overpaying for name recognition. However, this team is in a unique situation with a rapidly aging roster that is trying to squeeze one last grasp of air before the window slams shut and rebuilding becomes the term du jour in Seattle. So, overpaying now could be justifiable if the reward was great enough. So, let’s examine what Jr would bring to the club over the next five years, ignoring his albatross of a contract for a moment.
His performances since the trade to Cincinatti expressed in At-bats/BA/OBP/SLG:
2000: 520, .271/.387/.556
2001: 364, .286/.365/.533
2002: 197, .264/.358/.426
2003: 166, .247/.370/.566
He was still an elite player in 2000, though 2001 saw a pretty decent decline in both playing time and production. 2002 was the worst year of his career, as he was a league average player who only managed two months on the field. He played even less last year, though he was certainly a better player than the year before. The dwindling playing time is an obvious trend, and going into his age 34 season, it cannot be ignored. This is clearly a player that you can not depend on for a full season of play. To carry a player like this, you would have to have a capable backup whom you are comfortable giving 300-350 at-bats a year too. Quinton McCracken is not that player.
What have other players with similar skillset and health problems done from their age 34-38 seasons? Bring on the PECOTA projections. For 2004, its projecting a .264/.359/.499 season, good for a .291 EqA, but only expecting 218 at-bats. The best case scenario calls for a .301/.398/.595 season in 267 at-bats, and that is given only a 10 % chance of occurring. His five year forecast projects his EqA’s to hold steady for the next four years (.291, .285, .288, .285) before falling off a cliff in 2008 (.266). Considering a .260 EqA is league average, he’s expected to be a quality offensive contributor, but not a star, when he’s on the field. To put a ~.290 EqA in perspective, Randy Winn’s was .298 in 2002 and .283 in 2003. John Olerud posted a .284 EqA last year. While both players were nice hitters, acquiring another hitter with the value (even if it comes in a different package) of Winn or Olerud isn’t exactly the superstar acquisition fans have been clamoring for.
The rumor Finnigan floats is a straight up Winn for Griffey trade, which is insane financially, but we’re ignoring that part right now. Would this actually help the 2004 Mariners?
PECOTA hates Randy Winn, projecting a big dropoff this year, expecting a .275/.336/.413 season that would give him a .268 EqA in 471 at-bats. This would leave about 130 at-bats for Quinton McCracken in CF, who is projected at .259/.310/.366 for a .244 EqA. Combining their performance into a 600 at-bat tandem, the M’s could expect a .263 EqA from the duo in 2004. How many AB’s would Griffey have to take up to improve the team’s performance in CF?
300 AB’s for Griffey: .264 EqA from CF tandem
350 AB’s for Griffey: .271 EqA from CF tandem
400 AB’s for Griffey: .275 EqA from CF tandem
450 AB’s for Griffey: .279 EqA from CF tandem
500 AB’s for Griffey: .283 EqA from CF tandem
Realistically, Griffey would have to get at least 400 to 500 at-bats to make the move from Winn to Griffey a significant one when only factoring in their offensive contributions and completely ignoring the contract differences. While I’m certainly no fan of Randy Winn in center field, Griffey has lost enough range to be even worse, making the potential upgrade even harder to attain.
Essentially, the only way a Winn for Griffey trade would actually make the Mariners a better team in 2004 would be for Jr. to get at least 400 trips to the plate, something he hasn’t done since 2000. This analysis just takes into account this season, ignoring the fact that Griffey is likely to decline each of the last five years of his contract, and be a league average player by the time he’s off the books in 2008. Considering his vast health issues, he may have an earlier end than even the conservative forecasting systems project.
Bottom line: Ken Griffey Jr has some potential to improve the club this year, if he can finally stay healthy enough to play in at least 70 % of the team’s games. However, the improvement wouldn’t be nearly as significant as people assume, and there’s a strong chance that he won’t stay healthy. In return for taking on this potential one-year improvement, the M’s lock themselves into paying a declining player a superstar salary to watch him wither into a part-time asset.
If the Mariners traded Winn for Griffey straight up, and the Reds didn’t eat a humungous portion of his contract, this would go down as perhaps the worst trade in franchise history, crippling the club’s budget for four years while providing minimal hope of improving the team in 2004.
Just walk away.