Braves: 'No hard feelings' for Griffey
Team moves on after slugger chooses Seattle over Atlanta
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If not for the fact that he was personally campaigning for the opportunity to play in Atlanta, the Braves wouldn't have spent the past week even thinking about the possibility of adding Ken Griffey Jr. to their roster.
But given the opportunity to take a gamble on a future Hall of Famer who seemed intent on realizing the opportunity to play for manager Bobby Cox, Braves general manager Frank Wren pursued Griffey and quickly gained every reason to believe the 39-year-old outfielder was destined to soon introduce himself to the fans of Atlanta.
"I think he clearly felt like this is where he was going to go," Wren said on Thursday morning. "Whatever factors changed after that, he changed his mind. Was he 100 percent [committed to playing in Atlanta]? No. But he was definitely leaning this way."
While the Braves were hopeful of reaching an agreement on Tuesday, Griffey seemingly began to feel the nostalgic pull of Seattle, and on Wednesday night, he officially announced that he would indeed be returning to play for the Mariners, whom he made his Major League debut with in 1989, and whom he was employed with during his first 11 big league seasons.
"The only thing I have questioned is why he came to us," said Chipper Jones, who regularly conversed with Griffey over the past week. "Our time could have been better served exploring other options. That's unfortunate."
Jones has had the unique opportunity to play his entire career in Atlanta, so he can't exactly put himself in the shoes of Griffey, who is taking advantage of the opportunity to return to a place where he won two American League MVP Awards and captured 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards.
While fighting through some sense of discouragement, Jones understands why Griffey might have rejected the geographical advantages provided by the Braves and accepted the opportunity to return to a city where he'll be treated like a legend, regardless of how he performs on the field.
"He wanted to come here and that's why he reached out to us," Jones said. "But with every major decision in your life, you have to do some soul searching, and he had options and didn't choose this option. No hard feelings. I've always loved Griff to death and always will."
It's believed the Braves and Mariners were both willing to offer Griffey an incentive-laden contract that included a guaranteed base salary of $2 million. The $2.5 million incentive package provided by Seattle was greater than the one Atlanta would have granted.
Wren knew all along that the Mariners were going to be willing to provide more from a financial standpoint. Still, until early Tuesday afternoon, the GM felt he could be just hours away from hearing that Griffey had decided to play for the Braves.
"He expressed a strong interest to play here, not just to me, but to a number of our players and folks around us in our organization," Wren said. "There was a strong indication that he wanted to be here. I just think at the end, over the past couple of days as he did his soul searching in making his decision, there was also a strong pull from Seattle and finishing his legacy there."
Shortly after learning of Griffey's decision on Wednesday night, Wren clearly didn't want to place the blame on the fact that the veteran outfielder had become upset about The Atlanta Journal-Constitution publishing a report on Tuesday afternoon that indicated he'd already chosen to play in Atlanta.
Wren believes it might have been simply coincidental that Griffey and his agent halted regular contact with the Braves at around the same time that report was published. But it was obvious on Thursday that Wren still wondered if the story, which was based on information provided by a source that was identified as a friend of Griffey's, at least played a part in the outfielder's decision.
"[The report] was inopportune at the time because we were in the middle of the process," Wren said. "But I don't think it was the ultimate factor. It was about his legacy and ties to Seattle."
While they had some reservations about his surgically-repaired right knee, the Braves were willing to gamble with the hope that Griffey could add some power to their outfield mix, which combined for a Major League-low 27 homers last year.
With Griffey out of the picture, Atlanta is committed to providing some of its young outfielders -- Josh Anderson, Jordan Schafer, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Jones -- the chance to prove they're capable of being consistent offensive threats at the Major League level.
While attempting to acquire a right-handed power threat such as Xavier Nady would seemingly be the best solution for the Braves, Wren believes his team can still find success if one of these young outfielders platoons regularly in left field with Matt Diaz.
If over the next couple weeks, the Braves become less comfortable with their young outfield mix, they may look to once again be aggressive on the trade market. Atlanta doesn't seem to have much interest in Garrett Anderson and the other outfielders still available on the free-agent market.
"Yeah, we'd have loved to have had [Griffey]," Wren said. "But we still have good young players that we think can contribute well for our club."
Diaz was looking forward to the opportunity to split time with Griffey and playfully one day tell his grandchildren that there were days when he played in place of a legend, who currently stands as one of six Major Leaguers who has hit at least 600 homers.
"I'd say he's one of the top five or six players of all-time," Diaz said. "To tell your grandkids that you played with that guy, it would have been unbelievable. Not to mention, the way it was going, I may have shared a position with him and could have said, 'Yeah, they benched Griffey for me.'"
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.