In the offseason's first flurry of activity, the Seattle Mariners announced yesterday that they will comply with center fielder Ken Griffey Jr.'s request to be traded closer to his home in Orlando. Meantime, the Texas Rangers sent two-time American League most valuable player Juan Gonzalez to the Detroit Tigers in a nine-player deal.
Griffey, who recently rejected a record-breaking, eight-year, $135 million contract from the Mariners, is a 10-time all-star and widely regarded as baseball's best all-around player and the one with the best chance of breaking Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755 home runs.
He will apparently be chasing Aaron's record for another team. At an afternoon news conference, the Mariners announced that Griffey, 29, had asked to be traded, and team officials said they would comply.
"This has been an extremely difficult decision for me," Griffey said in a joint statement he released with the team. "Mariners fans throughout the Pacific Northwest have been very loyal and devoted to me. I will truly miss them."
"The Mariners agreed to Ken's request and will seek to trade him during the current offseason," the joint statement said.
Griffey hit 48 home runs this season and has 398 for his career. His contract expires after next season, and Griffey has the right to veto any proposed deal. Several industry sources believe Griffey would like to play for the Atlanta Braves.
New Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said he would be seeking "four players of quality. I think you'll be looking for a mix of players who can help you for the moment and in the future."
With Seattle superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez also eligible for free agency after next season, team officials had been wrestling with how to construct financial packages that would please both players. Industry sources have predicted for weeks the Mariners would be forced to trade one--or both--players.
Griffey made the decision easy on Monday when his agent, Brian Goldberg, informed team officials of the trade request during a meeting in Orlando. Mariners Chairman Howard Lincoln said Griffey "has clearly been agonizing over this decision for some time," and that it was "a difficult loss" for the team.
He praised Griffey, however, for wanting to spend more time with his two young children.
"This is not a decision I can quarrel with or argue with; it's only a decision that I can respect," Lincoln said.
Goldberg did not say where Griffey prefers to play and did not completely rule out Griffey returning to play for Seattle, saying, "You never know."
Goldberg said the Mariners "were very generous with their offer," but Griffey's desire to play closer to home took precedence over money. "Money was not an issue."
As for Gonzalez, he was sent to the Tigers with pitcher Danny Patterson and catcher Gregg Zaun for pitchers Justin Thompson, Alan Webb and Francisco Cordero, outfielder Gabe Kapler, catcher Bill Haselman and infielder Frank Catalanotto.
Gonzalez's departure came weeks after the Rangers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Yankees for a second straight season. The Rangers lost about $15 million last season, and General Manager Doug Melvin had promised substantial changes.
While he surrendered one of the game's most feared offensive players, he acquired a top young outfielder in Kapler and three promising arms in Thompson, Webb and Cordero.
"Thompson has been highly regarded, and we feel that with him and Cordero coming to our pitching staff that we've improved our ballclub," Melvin said.
"We've been working the last couple of years to acquire a marquee player," Tigers General Manager Randy Smith said, calling Gonzalez "a franchise player and future Hall of Famer."
Gonzalez, 30, will make $7.5 million next season and is eligible for free agency after the 2000 season.
"We just weren't prepared to go into next season with that over our heads," Melvin said.