Junior Back to Seattle? The Impact on the Race for Second in the AL West

Bill MartinezContributor IFebruary 13, 2009

News reports from various sources late Thursday said that Ken Griffey, Jr. and the Seattle Mariners were nearing agreement on a one-year deal that would bring arguably the greatest player in franchise history back to the Pacific Northwest.

Griffey, now 39 years old, broke into the majors with the Mariners exactly 20 years ago and helped turn Seattle from a perennial doormat into a club that made the playoffs just seven seasons later.

His return is ironic in the sense that in the time since he left, Seattle went from one of the perennial powers in the American League back to a doormat, becoming the highest paid franchise in the league history to lose 100 games in a season.

Still, despite his advancing age and a dropoff in batting average, Junior should add plenty to a club that will be scrambling to try and make the AL West respectable again.

Griffey hit .249 last season with 18 home runs and 71 RBI in 143 games with the Reds and White Sox. While that production isn't bad for a guy who lost parts of four different seasons with injuries, they still represent Junior's lowest home run and RBI totals for a full season since his rookie season in 1989.

Despite that, his presence, energy, and professionalism will fit in nicely with a team that has essentially overhauled its lineup. Gone from the 2008 disaster are Richie Sexson, Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro and Jeremy Reed.

Of those four, only Ibanez was anything close to productive, hitting .293 with 23 HR and 110 RBI.

That is not the only change Griffey is in for, though. Long gone is the ballpark that was a huge factor in his offense, replaced in his last season with the team by a ballpark that is brutal on home run hitters.

Still, with Griffey most likely hitting third in the lineup behind Ichiro Suzuki and Yuniesky Bettencourt and ahead of Adrian Beltre, the Mariners are in much better shape than they otherwise would have been. 

With some secondary contributions, solid seasons from Felix Hernandez and Brandon Morrow, and a rebirth by Erik Bedard, they could even end up in good enough shape to perhaps pass Oakland and claim second in the division behind the Los Angeles Angels.