Understanding the Ken Griffey move

Ken Griffey Jr. is returning for what figures to be his swan song, a second straight season in Seattle that figures to see him serve strictly off the bench.

Junior is receiving a $2 million base salary with incentives that could bring in another million.

Some are stunned that general manager Jack Zduriencik would make this move: ‘Z’ has proven over the last year to have a very astute mind and is a large reason for Seattle finding itself in the competitive place it does. Why, then, would Z bring back Griffey?

For one, the Mariners have the space on the bench. Even though Griffey hit a career low .214 last year, he still juiced 19 home runs in 387 at-bats and can perform off the bench as a pinch-hitter. Given that the outfield has several backup candidates (Ryan Langerhans, Bill Hall, Michael Saunders), Griff won’t be asked to play the outfield on a regular basis, although he figures to see a bit more time out there with his playing time in general being cut.

While the Mariners technically have the DH spot open, there’s no chance Griffey fills it on a full-time basis. The Mariners still have the payroll space to bring in a Jim Thome-type player to be the DH.

Another reason — which is really going to draw the ire of some — is sentimentality. I’m not so cold-hearted that I’m going to completely ignore the sentimental factor. Griffey was a linchpin in the clubhouse last year, which does have value. He was a leader and puts fannies in the seats, which has value. Just because they’re not quantifiable or are simply matters of the heart doesn’t change the inherent value.

In my peeking around on Griffey’s cumulative stats (.285/.371/.541 with 630 home runs over 2,638 games) I noticed something that may have factored into Griffey’s thinking. By playing one more year, he gets to say he played until 40, in addition to playing in four different decades. (Debuted 1989.) Jesse Orosco, Mike Morgan, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson both last accomplished this. Griffey figures to enter this exclusive class along with Jamie Moyer in 2010.

Look, Griffey isn’t worth $3 million as a backup outfielder. We all know this. But is he going to provide negative value?

I’m going to say no here. As a quick recap of what I mentioned: Griffey will bring fans to the park, act as a clubhouse leader and find a way to contribute off the bench. He’s overpaid because he’s Ken Griffey Jr., but if he was paid more according to his talents, many people would be okay with the move. Who’s to say that extra $2 million won’t be made up (and more) in gate revenue, though? Who’s to say Z thinks Griffey’s worth an extra $1 million for keeping the clubhouse together after such a fractured 2008?

Things aren’t always as simple as cold, hard numbers.

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3 Comments on "Understanding the Ken Griffey move"

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Nick Steiner
Nick Steiner
Griffey’s BABIP was also hilariously low last year.  His PrOPS was .853, making him one of the unluckiest players in baseball.  However, he’s old and slow, so PrOPS (which uses league average inputs I believe) is probably overestimating him, still, if you look at his PrOPS – OPS in previous years: 2006: -.068 2007: -.026 2008: -.081 2009: -.119 It looks like he definitely got unlucky this year. If you weight his PrOPS’s 5-4-3, as well as the difference between PrOPS and OPS, you get a rough projection, before regression, for a .785 OPS.  The league average for a DH… Read more »
Evan Brunell
Evan Brunell

Love how you used “cold, hard numbers” to support that the signing isn’t all that bad.

Greg Rybarczyk
Greg Rybarczyk
Griffey also happens to fit Safeco very well.  13 of his 19 homers came in Seattle, which has a nice short RF fence (its deep field is left-center).  Of his 6 on the road, 3 were 370-375 foot fly balls that cleared the short fences in Minnesota and the Bronx.  Griffey’s average home run distance (adjusted for weather and altitude) was 92nd out of 99 players with at least 18 home runs. His power is definitely fading, but he still fits Safeco very, very well.  If the Mariners preferentially play him at home or places with a cozy right field… Read more »