ATLANTA -- Sure, Ken Griffey Jr. would fit nicely into the Atlanta Braves lineup.
But the cost of acquiring the 10-time All-Star, both in players and money, is so prohibitive it makes no sense to pursue him. Why give up Kevin Millwood, as one Atlanta columnist suggested? Or John Rocker? Or top prospect Rafael Furcal? Trading those players would mortgage the team's present and future, as well as add $12-$15 million annually to the payroll, assuming the Braves could sign Griffey to a long-term deal.
All that for a player who is seven years older than Andruw Jones and hit 22 more homers and drove in 50 more runs than Atlanta's Gold Glove center fielder last season. Jones is regarded as one of the best talents in the game and in comparing his first three full seasons in the majors to Griffey's, you find he has outperformed the player most observers feel will break Hank Aaron's home run record.
During that three-year period, Jones has averaged 25 home runs and 81 RBI; Griffey averaged 20 homers and 80 EBI in his first three years. Will Jones mature into another Griffey? That's impossible to predict, but the Braves have been forecasting his emergence into a superstar for years.
So, the bottom line is, is Griffey worth the price of Jones, Millwood, Rocker and Furcal? Absolutely not.
The Braves have run off eight straight division championships and five pennants this decade without Griffey. Sure, they have won only one World Series, but do you really believe Griffey would have made a difference against the Yankees? Think again.
With Andres Galarraga, Javy Lopez and Kerry Ligtenberg returning next season, the Braves have a powerful team. Scoring runs in the postseason has always been a problem, but adding Griffey to the lineup doesn't guarantee a world championship.
Now, if general manager John Schuerholz can somehow convince Mariners GM Pat Gillick to take Jones, Ryan Klesko, Bruce Chen, George Lombard and Jason Marquis for Griffey, then the cost in personnel isn't too high.
But, the feeling here is Gillick didn't build a two-time World Series winner in Toronto by making foolish decisions.
... Schuerholz wants to move quickly in replacing hitting coach Don Baylor, hired this week as Cubs manager. Quickly enough to sign the right man before someone else snaps him up, but not so quickly as to make the wrong choice.
Is hiring an African-American a priority? No, Schuerholz said, hiring a hitting instructor who fits in with the Braves is the only criteria.
"We're interested in work ethic, an ability to work hard and communicate with players," Schuerholz said.
One name that keeps popping up is Expos hitting coach Tommy Harper, who has helped turn Rondell White and Vladimir Guerrero into two of the league's most dangerous hitters.
"I like Tommy Harper," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "He knows his stuff. I'm pretty close with Rondell White and Cliff Floyd, and Tommy Harper has been with them a long time and they love him to death. I have to respect their opinions and say Tommy would be a great fit."
Harper is especially adept at working with young players, which would be a plus if the Braves hang onto Andruw Jones. Other names that have been mentioned are Rockies hitting coach Clint Hurdle, former Cardinals slugger Jack Clark and ex-Blue Jay Lloyd Moseby. ...
Lombard is opening some eyes in the Arizona Fall League, where he's hitting .321 with eight homers and 27 RBI in 84 at-bats. The outfielder, regarded as one of the organizations' top prospects, missed most of his first season at Class AAA Richmond because of injuries. He will return to Richmond next season and could wind up in Atlanta in 2001.
"He's the kind of guy who can make a difference if it all clicks and we're trying to speed up the process," said Roy Clark, the Braves' Director of Scouting. "He's a big part of our future." ...
The Braves have some interest in Japanese pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki, who is a free agent and said to be interested in pitching in Atlanta. But with the dearth of pitching, some team will undoubtedly overpay for the right-hander, who will turn 32 in February, and if bidding gets into the $4-$5 million per year range, the Braves will pass.
"We are well aware of Mr. Sasaki," Clark said. "We do have interest, but how much interest, I don't know."
Sasaki, Japan's career saves leader, underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow in August. Medical reports indicate he's recovered completely from the procedure, but the Braves will be leery of handing a multi-year deal to a pitcher who is coming off elbow surgery and depends on a split-fingered fastball for much of his success.