Originally created 11/04/99

Atlanta could be major player in Griffey Sweepstakes



ATLANTA -- Will Ken Griffey wind up chasing Hank Aaron's home run record in Atlanta?

The Braves are seen as a logical team to pursue a trade for Griffey, a 10-time All-Star centerfielder who announced Tuesday he wants to leave the Seattle Mariners.

Griffey, with one year left on his current contract, turned down an eight-year deal worth a reported $140 million from the Mariners, saying he wanted to play closer to his Orlando, Fla., home.

The team said it would try to accommodate his trade request, sparking frenzied speculation about Junior's next stop.

Atlanta is only a one-hour flight from Orlando and the Braves' spring training complex is located just south of the city at Disney World.

Also, the Time Warner-owned Braves have the financial clout to afford a player of Griffey's calibre and enough talent to make an attractive offer to the Mariners, who surely would be interested in 22-year-old Gold Glove centerfielder Andruw Jones.

Both team president Stan Kasten and general manager John Schuerholz declined to say if the NL champions are interested in Griffey, who turns 30 this month. They routinely refuse to comment on personnel matters.

Griffey has 398 homers in his career after hitting 48 this year. He had 56 in each of the previous two seasons.

Aaron hit a record 755 homers, most of them with the Braves. Now the team's senior vice president, he has given Griffey the best chance of breaking the long-ball mark because of his youth and consistency.

Junior was the youngest member of the All-Century team and a probable Hall of Famer. He would eclipse Aaron's record by averaging 36 homers over the next decade.

To get Griffey, the Braves would probably have to give up their own centerfielder, even though Jones is seven years younger and considered a budding star. This year, he hit .275 with 26 homers, 84 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.

Jones is eligible for arbitration, which means his salary will take a substantial jump from the $330,000 he made in 1999. Still, he's not in the same financial league as Griffey, set to make $8.5 million in the final year of his current deal.

The Mariners are likely to want pitching and top young players in any package for Griffey. The Braves have four top starters in Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

The 24-year-old Millwood (18-7) could be off-limits because of his youth and low salary. Maddux (19-9) and Glavine (14-11) are both 33 and in the middle of high-priced, long-term contracts, while Smoltz, 32, is eligible for free agency after next season. He was hampered by elbow problems this year, limiting his record to 11-8.

Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, having spent at least 10 years apiece in the majors and five or more with the same club, would have veto power over a trade.

Among the prospects who could be dealt by the Braves are 22-year-old left-hander Bruce Chen, who went 6-3 with a 3.81 ERA at Triple-A Richmond but struggled in Atlanta, and outfielder George Lombard, 24, who has shown both speed and power in the minor leagues.

The Cincinnati Reds are the sentimental choice to land Griffey. He grew up in the city and his father, Ken Sr., is a coach for the team.

"We're interested," general manager Jim Bowden said Wednesday. "We're going to do everything we can to see if we can't be a player in this and see if we can't make a deal for him."

But the low-budget Reds may not be able to afford Griffey. They had a $35 million payroll this year and aren't expected to increase it substantially until they get closer to moving into a new ballpark in 2003.

Their highest-paid player was Greg Vaughn, who made $5.75 million and is a free agent.

The Braves had a payroll of $73.5 million, more than twice as large as Cincinnati's and fifth-largest in the major leagues.