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Thursday, February 19, 2009
Camp notes: Griffey does about-face


What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, all the writing was on the wall for Ken Griffey Jr. to join Chipper Jones in the Atlanta Braves' lineup. Unfortunately for Braves fans and owners in NL-only leagues, the writing was not on a contract. Griffey, who had insisted the reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution were premature and that he had not yet made his final decision, has in fact decided to accept a one-year contract offer from Seattle, the city where he launched his career.

Ken Griffey Jr
Ken Griffey Jr. can still provide a little power and a lot of goodwill, but don't expect him to be a fantasy game-changer.
Now, some may say that this is nothing more than an attempt by the Mariners to fill some seats after a 100-loss season. In fact, Griffey's $2 million contract is chock-full of incentives based on at-bats and, more importantly, attendance figures, so there's no attempt to hide from the fact that the signing, at least in part, is being made to put fans in the seats. However, those fans won't come if Griffey does not play, and with Ichiro Suzuki in right and the superior defensive ability of Franklin Gutierrez in center, it looks like the best fit for Griffey, on days he doesn't simply DH, would be in left field. After all, Endy Chavez has a nice glove, but no power and declining speed. Wladimir Balentien has a lot of potential but, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is having difficulty with his visa from his native Curacao, and the Mariners have no timetable for his arrival in camp.

There's also the effect this signing may have on Jeff Clement. After he underwent knee surgery last season, the Mariners had intended to limit his catching duties as much as possible by playing Kenji Johjima behind the plate but still getting Clement's bat in the lineup as the designated hitter. Perhaps that will still be the case on the road, but when the Mariners are playing at Safeco Field, Griffey's required presence in the lineup may force Clement to don the tools of ignorance more than the team had planned, and that excess wear and tear may end up hurting Clement's 2009 stats in the long run.

In other news from around spring training camps:

While there are a few bullpen battles in the NL Central that still need to shake themselves out this spring, don't be fooled by what you see in the box scores. …

• Lou Piniella told the Cubs' official Web site that neither Carlos Marmol nor Kevin Gregg will be closing games this spring. The reason? Since most of the A-list hitters have long since been replaced in the lineup by the time the ninth inning rolls around, he's going to be testing his potential closers earlier in games in the hope that they'll face a higher quality of hitter. Marmol certainly proved last season that he had the makings of a closer. As Kerry Wood's set-up man, he had 30 holds and a major league-high 114 strikeouts by a reliever. However, there is something to be said for "having done the job before," and Gregg did record 29 saves with the Marlins last season. Fantasy owners who will be drafting before this situation shakes itself out should probably err on the side of Marmol. If Gregg doesn't get the closer's job, he won't have much fantasy value, whereas Marmol, because of his historically high strikeout rate, dominant ERA and WHIP will still have a strong positive impact on your staff's numbers if he once again is asked to play the set-up role.

• Meanwhile in St. Louis, pitching coach Dave Duncan says that while he and manager Tony La Russa would like for their closer situation to shake out this spring, they're not going to force matters, and if they have to "mix and match" when the season starts, so be it. The team's official Web site quotes Duncan as saying, "Ideally, what I would like to see is that over the course of the spring, somebody emerges that we have the confidence in to finish the games. Start the season with a guy that you can designate as your closer. I don't know if it's going to be that way or not."

Right now there's a four-man battle royal among Chris Perez, Jason Motte, Josh Kinney and Ryan Franklin to take over the ninth-inning duties, as Jason Isringhausen is no longer in the picture. Franklin is the veteran of the bunch, giving him the edge if La Russa decides, as he did last season, that the "kids" aren't ready to handle the job. It's situations like this that reinforce our "don't pay for saves" mantra; when all is said and done, despite the impression that it's Perez's job to lose, it's very possible that any -- or even all -- of this quartet might end up with double-digit saves when 2009 is done.

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• The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that talks between free agent Joe Crede and the Twins have ground to a halt. Simply put, there aren't many offers out there for Crede, with perhaps only San Francisco still being thought of as a potential suitor for the third baseman's services. As such, the Twins aren't going to sign Crede on his terms. What is also helping the Twins stand firm in negotiations is the fact that Brian Buscher reportedly has been crushing the ball so far this spring and his likely platoonmate Brendan Harris also seems a lot more comfortable now that he is being asked to focus on his best defensive position. If Crede won't lower his price, it looks like he won't be coming to Minnesota.

• News out of Astros camp in Kissimmee is that catcher Toby Hall had to have an MRI on his right shoulder, leading to speculation that the team might seek out the services of a veteran catcher like Ivan Rodriguez to compete for the starting job instead of relying on J.R. Towles or Humberto Quintero should Hall's injury prove to be serious. However, general manager Ed Wade stopped that rumor in its tracks. The Astros' official Web site quoted Wade as saying, "We're not signing Pudge. Put that one to rest. We have no expectation to sign Pudge."

Rodriguez isn't the only veteran having difficulty catching on with a major league team. Paul Lo Duca was talking with the Chicago White Sox, hoping to find himself a job as the backup to A.J. Pierzynski. However, the Chicago Sun Times reports that the team decided to stick with what they had. "After some conversations and the flow of those conversations, I felt what we have here is just what we needed,'' general manager Ken Williams told the newspaper. The fact is, fantasy players probably shouldn't worry too much about where these veterans end up. The catcher position may not be the deepest, but in a 10-team mixed league, you won't need to go anywhere near players like Pudge and Lo Duca. In fact, in the ESPN mock draft I took part in just yesterday, I was able to grab my starting catcher, Kelly Shoppach, in the 22nd round of our 25-round draft. There's more than enough depth to go around.

Finally, while it's important to always check the headlines right before you draft, just in case some important "need-to-know" news breaks, make sure you read the whole article and not just the headline. Yesterday, the Tampa Tribune proclaimed that Evan Longoria left the team's first workout early, which may have caused a lot of panic and movement on the draft board for fantasy owners … unless they read on to discover it was simply the result of some discomfort after Evan had some wisdom teeth pulled. He'll be just fine. Nothing to see here. Move it along.

A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.