PEORIA, Ariz. – Top Seattle Mariners executives walked out of team headquarters here Tuesday with empty hands and fading hopes.
Roughly 2,000 miles away, in Orlando, Fla., onetime Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. was said to be finalizing a contract with the Atlanta Braves that would end all talk of his return to the Emerald City. A source close to the talks said Tuesday that Griffey had chosen the Braves and would receive a base salary of about $2 million and total compensation, including incentives, of between $2 million and $3 million.
The Braves were said to have finalized details of the contract throughout the afternoon and were to meet in the evening with Griffey and his agent. In Arizona, Mariners chief executive officer Howard Lincoln and general manager Jack Zduriencik, upon leaving the Peoria Sports Complex for the day, stopped by the media room to speak to reporters.
“We haven’t heard anything,” Zduriencik said. “We don’t know anything.”
Earlier in the day, news that Griffey had picked the Braves was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing a source close to Griffey and the talks. The 39-year-old slugger and his agent, Brian Goldberg, later sent a text message to Zduriencik denying the story was true.
Griffey later told MLB.com he was “kicking things around” with his family and would likely not make a final decision until today. By late Tuesday night, Mariners officials still had yet to hear anything and were not expecting to until today.
But Griffey’s camp was said to be meeting late Tuesday with the Braves, whose spring-training facility in Orlando is about 15 minutes from the slugger’s house. Griffey is said to favor the Braves because of their relative proximity to his Orlando home, where his son will begin playing high school football this year. The two cities are about an hour flight apart.
Griffey, who also has a daughter who plays AAU basketball in Atlanta, has long wanted to play for Braves manager Bobby Cox.
Griffey was expected to sign off on the deal and wait until today to announce it.
The Mariners had kept Griffey on the back burner for weeks, choosing instead to focus on bigger-name free agents. Once they set their sights on Griffey, with no other competitors in sight, a deal appeared all but done. But the Braves stepped in late last week, wanting a left-handed bat and veteran clubhouse presence for a team some consider a dark horse playoff contender. At first, it seemed an unlikely fit, given that Griffey will have to play a left-field platoon role in Atlanta despite coming off knee problems.
The Mariners would have limited him largely to a designated-hitter role.
Unless Griffey pulls a dramatic, last-minute reversal and heads to Seattle, the Mariners are expected to step up their pursuit for left-handed hitter Garret Anderson, formerly of the Los Angeles Angels.
Griffey struggled last season. He hit .249 with 18 homers and 71 runs batted in for the Reds and the Chicago White Sox before becoming a free agent.