- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
- 0 Shares
Ken Griffey Jr. is returning to Seattle.
The future Hall of Famer informed the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday that he's returning to the city where he carved out a Hall of Fame career as a perennial All-Star in the 1990s.
"He's coming home. ... I can't begin to tell you how ecstatic we are. He is, too," Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik confirmed on Wednesday night, calling Griffey "arguably one of the greatest athletes to ever play in the Seattle area."
Two baseball sources said that Griffey made his decision after two days of debating between Atlanta, which is close to his home in Orlando, Fla., and Seattle, where he's been a fan favorite since breaking in with the Mariners as a 19-year-old phenom in 1989.
"Ken is extremely excited to be coming back to Seattle," Zduriencik said.
The contract is for one year and $2 million guaranteed and includes incentives that could bring the total value of the deal to $4.5 million, a source said.
As of late last week, it appeared a virtual certainty that Griffey would return to Seattle. But Griffey reached out to the Braves and received a warm reception from manager Bobby Cox and third baseman Chipper Jones, among others.
The Braves were hoping to sign Griffey as a platoon partner for Matt Diaz in left field, and Griffey appeared energized by the prospect of playing so close to home and spending spring training in Orlando.
But the Griffey-to-Atlanta momentum hit the skids Tuesday afternoon, when the sentimental lure of Seattle apparently began to tug at him. One person close to Griffey said he had an "agonizing'' 24 hours trying to decide between the Braves and Mariners.
"We were informed tonight that Ken Griffey Jr. has decided to return to Seattle," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We will continue to be open to other possibilities to improve our outfield offense and, at the same time, give our young players an opportunity to show us they can win that job."
Griffey is extremely close to Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and chairman Howard Lincoln from his previous tenure with Seattle from 1989 through 2000. He made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove with the Mariners every year during the 1990s, and received a hero's welcome when he returned to the city with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007.
It's believed that the Mariners would like to continue their association with Griffey in some fashion when he retires -- although it's uncertain in what role.
Zduriencik said the Mariners were the beneficiaries of Griffey wanting to cement his legacy in Seattle.
"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said. "Everyone knows Ken Griffey is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he's returning to his roots. That doesn't happen too often."
Griffey is likely to spend time in left field in Seattle, where Endy Chavez is currently the starter, and could also be a DH for new manager Don Wakamatsu. He turned 39 in November, and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the offseason.
Griffey's return is a jolt for the Mariners, the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games -- last season.
"A rejuvenated Ken Griffey coming back to where he started has to be a fabulous motivator for him," Zduriencik said.
The GM had been trying to add a power hitter, and specifically a designated hitter, for months and was also talking to the agent for free agent Garret Anderson. The Mariners prefer a left-handed bat because the dimensions of pitcher-friendly Safeco Field are shortest in right field.
The configuration fits the left-handed Griffey so well, the Mariners presented him with a framed photo of their stadium before a Reds-Mariners game in 2007, with the words "The House that Griffey Built" across the top. Griffey played just half a season in it before getting the trade he demanded.
Yet the fans in Seattle still love "Junior."
Griffey has been hampered by injuries since he left and had arthroscopic knee surgery following the 2008 season, the last half of which he spent with the White Sox. Zduriencik said the Mariners' extensive research, which ended with Griffey passing a physical in Arizona on Sunday, convinced the team he is as healthy as he's been in years.
He is the Mariners' career leader in home runs (398), slugging percentage (.569) and trails only Edgar Martinez in team history in games played with 1,535. He's also second to Martinez in Seattle history in hits, RBIs, extra-base hits, at-bats, doubles, runs and total bases.
Seattle's starting outfield currently has Ichiro Suzuki in right field, Franklin Gutierrez in center and question marks in left, and Zduriencik left open the possibility Griffey could play in the field.
The loss of Griffey to Seattle marked another setback in a challenging offseason for the Braves, who traded for starter Javier Vazquez and signed free agents Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, but failed to complete a trade for Jake Peavy and fell short in the pursuit of free agents A.J. Burnett and Rafael Furcal.
It's likely that Atlanta will have an acquisition to announce shortly, however. A source said the Braves are moving closer to bringing back pitcher Tom Glavine on a one-year contract, and a deal could be announced as soon as Thursday.
But Griffey is coming back to where he spent the heyday of his career -- to Seattle.
"I know in his heart of hearts," Zduriencik said, "he probably wanted to be here all along."
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
1dInterview by Buster Olney
17hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com