2009 NEWS

2009 NEWS > 6/4/09


By Buster Olney, ESPN
Original Article HERE.

When the Mariners signed Ken Griffey Jr., they knew that the future Hall of Famer was nothing like the player who had dominated the major leagues before being traded to Cincinnati a decade ago. Griffey, after all, has been honest about it; he told White Sox general manager Kenny Williams as much before being traded to Chicago last summer.

At age 39, Griffey is hitting .223, with six homers and 15 RBI. But there is no talk that the Mariners are going to release Griffey. No, they signed up for this tour, knew the risks, understood that there would be pitfalls. But apparently they are willing to go along with all that because Griffey means more to them than just being one of 50 players who will wear their uniform this year. He means so much, in fact, the M's knew that even this older yet still authentic version of Griffey would be a joy for their fans; his contract pays him more as those fans show up. Nobody else on the team has such a provision. And his base deal wasn't much more than Glavine's. Griffey is a future Hall of Famer, and his plaque at Cooperstown will probably be adorned with a Mariners' logo. The Seattle organization, for years to come, will want to bring him back for Opening Days and special events, to throw out a first pitch, to shake hands, to wave.

The Mariners' respectful treatment of Griffey helps us understand why the Braves' handling of Tom Glavine on Wednesday was particularly awful, like butchery with a pen knife.

Glavine had come to the end of his minor league rehabilitation assignment this week, with success, not allowing a run in six innings in a start in Class A, surrendering just three hits and walking none. His fastball was clocked at 83-84 mph and he touched 86 mph, which means he was throwing with the same velocity that he has for years -- and actually with greater velocity than how he threw in spring training, when his fastball was at 80-81 mph and the Braves thought he was good enough to pencil into their rotation.

But Glavine was summoned into a room at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon and told he would either have to retire, or be released. He chose to be released and walked out of the park, and it's unclear when he'll come back.

Braves general manager Frank Wren told reporters that the radar gun readings in Rome, Ga. -- the home of a Braves affiliate -- were off the other day. And he said this: "It's not a business decision from our perspective. It's a performance decision."

In fact, it seemed all business. Not personal.

By dumping Glavine before he appeared on their roster for one day, the Braves are able to avoid paying him a $1 million bonus that would have been due the day he was activated, plus any subsequent bonuses -- money that now might be more useful to them in other ways, such as in paying new center fielder Nate McLouth, who was acquired in a trade with the Pirates shortly after Atlanta announced the release of Glavine.

The Braves signed on for the Tom Glavine tour, shortly after they broke ties with John Smoltz. They knew then that they were not going to get an electric fastball, and that there might be days of ugly line scores from a 43-year-old pitcher. But it was important to them, at that time, to maintain ties with the future Hall of Famer, a guy whose plaque in Cooperstown would contain their logo, someone they would invite back for special events, for Opening Days, to throw out first balls and to wave.

Glavine did everything the Braves asked through spring training, and Atlanta wrote him into the rotation for mid-April. He had a setback, and the Braves had a chance to jump off the Glavine comeback train then, to be direct and honest with him in telling him that they didn't think he was good enough. But the Braves kept him, kept arranging rehab outings for him, with Glavine under the impression that he was making progress and pushing toward a day when he could rejoin Atlanta's rotation. It is the Braves who have complete control over his rehab schedule. He went out and did as well as he could do in his last outings in the minor leagues; he had done his part.

So it is especially odd that the Braves pulled the plug in the way that they did, and quite frankly, he deserves better -- and if they didn't know that when they re-signed him in February, then they should have.

Before teams agree to bring back a historically great player, they owe it to themselves to have this conversation: What happens if the guy is bad? What happens if he just can't play anymore? Is the ending going to be ugly? And if they determine that the ending might get ugly, then they pass on the player in the first place, because what you don't want, especially, is to have a future Hall of Famer storming out of your park in midseason feeling as if he hadn't been dealt with honestly and respectfully. And that's about how Glavine felt as he drove away from Turner Field.

Tommy Hanson, who now takes a spot in the Atlanta rotation, is going to be a star, and he might have a chance of making the Braves better in the short term, as well. He also plays for minimum wage, and because the Braves spend less on him than they might've spent on Glavine, they are in a better position to stay within their budget while pursuing outfield help. If you are running a fantasy team, this is the move you make.

But the Braves aren't playing a board game. They were dealing with Glavine, who had played a major role in hoisting up the franchise after decades of failure.

Glavine had honored the contract he signed with Atlanta in February, done the work, pitched where he was told to pitch and done so with good results. At the very least, he had earned a start or two or three in the majors. If he had gotten pounded, well, then it would've been clear that Glavine couldn't help the Braves.

But the Braves cut him and shoved him out the door before they had to pay him any more money, a move that is beneath them.

It's unclear where Glavine might land. The Dodgers will consider signing the lefty, but it's unclear whether they would get serious about him, or if he would actually get serious about them, considering that he has lived in the Eastern part of the country his entire life. The Rangers, in need of pitching now that they've moved to dump Vicente Padilla, will probably talk about Glavine, who is better suited to face NL hitters but also might have a better chance for AL success in matching up with the weaker lineups of the Mariners, Athletics et al. Maybe Glavine would fit cheaply with the Marlins, who play relatively close to Glavine's Atlanta home and are managed by former Atlanta coach Fredi Gonzalez.