The initial reaction in my noggin’ upon hearing that Ken Griffey Jr. was headed to the White Sox was one of some surprise. Although he is certainly no longer the player he was just a few years ago, Griffey can still swing a bat decently enough and potentially help a team looking for an offensive boost in the outfield. But regardless of his potential offensive performance, the question needs to be asked: Where would he play?
Throughout his career, we’ve grown accustomed to thinking of Griffey as that center fielder who makes everything look so damned easy. But in case you haven’t been paying attention, Griffey’s been playing right field for the past two seasons due to injury concerns and diminished range. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox have arguably the best offensive corner outfield duo in the league this year with Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye (both have a 143 adjusted OPS) and are the two best hitters the team has. And although Quentin is a below average left fielder, the team can’t move him to DH since that spot is occupied by their third most effective hitter, Jim Thome (132 adjusted OPS). Assuming that none of these three guys will have playing time taken away, there’s really only two potential scenarios.
For one, Griffey plays center again. This is certainly plausible, but I think that most would advise against it. Back when Griffey was still a center fielder in 2006, out of the 21 players who played at least 850 innings in center, Griffey had the worst fielding percentage among them at .979. Moreover, his revised zone rating was .832 which was also the worst. And this year in RF, his revised zone rating is .826. And yes, this is the worst among qualifying RFers who have logged at least 590 innings.
If this scenario plays out, it would also mean that Nick Swisher gets booted out of center field or out of the lineup altogether. Swish was the crown jewel of Chicago’s off-season. But to call his performance thus far a disappointment might be an understatement to some. He is posting career lows in batting average (.230) as well as in slugging percentage (.404). His OBP is near a career-low as well (.348). Despite this, Swish still isn’t the biggest disappointment in the Sox lineup this year, as that title has to go to first baseman Paul Konerko. If you blinked, you missed Konerko’s decline. From 2004-2006, Konerko was one of the most effective hitters in the game, posting adjusted OPS figures of 127, 136, and 134 respectively. Last year, that figure dropped to 116. This year, it’s 74. And he has a negative 7.7 VORP to boot. Swisher has spent a good chunk of his time over his career playing first, so if Griffey goes into center field, then I’m assuming that Swisher’s moving to first. Which would leave Konerko, the team captain, out in the cold.
Alternatively, Griffey becomes a 4th outfielder. Again, plausible. But as a 10 and 5 player, Griffey had the right to block any trade. Would he have approved it knowing that he would be riding pine? Would the desire to play in the postseason trump a starting job? And since Griffey still has a $16.5MM club option next season that the Sox did not have to pick up as a condition to the trade, the guy is still potentially playing for his next contract, unless he retires before that happens.
Of course, the White Sox wouldn’t dare consider just putting Griffey at first base – a position where he has played for two whopping innings in his entire career (once in ’93, other in ’98) – during a tight race for the division championship… Would they? Or do they have another trade up their sleeve that makes this all a moot point?