This Day in Baseball History: February 9th, 2000

This is basically how the 2000’s went for The Kid.

On February 9, 2000:

The Seattle Mariners trade Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds for Brett Tomko, Mike Cameron, Antonio Pérez, and Jake Meyer.

Known as the “Kid”, Ken Griffey Jr. was a fan-favorite, to say the least, in Seattle. Starting in 1989 at the age of 19, Griffey became a star, playing spectacular defense while blasting huge offensive numbers. He was widely considered the best player in the majors, and some wondered if he was the best player of all-time. However, everything was not happy in Seattle.

Griffey had a strong desire to play closer to his family, who lived in Florida, and when he was approached about an 8-year/$148M deal, he rejected it. GM Pat Gillick continued to try to work on negotiating a contract, but Griffey wanted out. Making things more difficult, Griffey was a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the majors and the last 5 with one team), which gave him no-trade rights. Griffey told the Mariners he would approve a trade to four teams: the New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros, and the Cincinnati Reds.

During and following the 1999 season, Gillick tried to find a trade partner, but the market was lacking. In the off-season, there was more of a market. The Mets were the first major trading partner, and they offered young Octavio Dotel, Roger Cedeno, and Armando Benitez. Griffey, however, exercised his 10-and-5 rights, but no one is exactly sure why. One reason is that he may have realized he wanted to go to Cincinnati (where his father was coaching), and another is that he may have felt the Mets were giving up too much. Adding to the former theory, Griffey came out and said he would only go to the Reds. Seattle management, fearing an unhappy Griffey, told Gillick to get what he could for Griffey. The Reds originally refused to take part in trade negotiations because they didn’t want to break up the key parts of a 96 win team (Pokey Reese, Sean Casey, and Scott Williamson were major parts of rumors), but knowing they could get Griffey without giving them up, they re-entered negotiations.

An interesting twist is that the Mariners demanded Pérez and Tomko because they were supposed to be the main part of a trade for Jim Edmonds, who would then be the center fielder, but the addition of Cameron made that potentially unnecessary.

Once the trade had been completed in principle, the Reds had to work out an extension, and they were given a 72-hour window. Most felt like Griffey could become the first $200M dollar player, but he took $116M over 9 seasons, much lower than expectations and even what Seattle had offered (I guess it isn’t always about the money?). Griffey officially became a Red.

As for Griffey and the Reds, the trade didn’t exactly work out as planned. At the time, this seemed to be a great deal for the Reds. Tomko was nothing special, and although Cameron seemed to be a decent player, he was no Griffey. The Reds were just coming off a 96-win season, and they seemed primed to take the NL Central. After a solid 2000 campaign, he was never the same. He didn’t play in 130 games in any season until 2007, and 3 of those were under 100 games. He finished the contract by being traded to the Chicago White Sox and being only fairly productive. The Reds never made the playoffs and were above .500 only once.

As for the rest of the players, Tomko pitched two seasons in Seattle, but he rarely started or was any good. Cameron had four pretty good seasons in Seattle, but he was never great except for 2001 (and that’s stretching “great”). Pérez never played for Seattle, but he was part of the trade that brought Randy Winn from Tampa Bay in 2002. Meyer was a decent minor-league reliever, but he never made it to the big leagues and was out of baseball by 2005. Overall, the trade really worked out for no one, but Seattle wasn’t financially burdened by Griffey and had a few great seasons in the post-Griffey era (most notably the 4 seasons immediately after his departure, including the amazing 116-win 2001 team).

On a more personal note, I remember that off-season. My brother’s favorite player was Griffey, and because we are both avid Braves fans, we desperately wanted him in Atlanta. Having both of our favorite players, both probable future Hall of Famers, was almost too much to wish for. We watched the rumors, but he didn’t come. My brother was furious. I guess it ended up a good thing, however. How about the All-Star injured outfield of Griffey and Chipper Jones?

As for this off-season and the Braves, it definitely reminds me of the Jake Peavy situation. We wait to hear all the rumors, desperately hoping the Braves get Peavy. Ultimately, it doesn’t happen, and we’re pretty “peav”ed. In the end, it could still work out that it was a good thing the Braves didn’t get him. Here’s to historical perspective!

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