Angelos gives OK to pursue Griffey trade

Sources: Owner willing to take on remainder of Reds star's salary: $79M

Beattie: `We've got the resources'

Cincinnati's GM denies deal discussions

Ponson could be in potential swap

March 06, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - If the Cincinnati Reds make Ken Griffey available for a trade this spring, the Orioles won't let money stand in the way.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has given his baseball people permission to take on the $79 million Griffey has remaining over the final six years of his contract, multiple major-league sources confirmed yesterday.

Less than four weeks from Opening Day, the Orioles remain determined to add a major run producer to their lineup, and Griffey has quietly hovered near the top of their target list, along with Kansas City Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran.

The Reds were poised to trade Griffey to the San Diego Padres for Phil Nevin this past winter, until Nevin vetoed the deal. The Orioles believe Cincinnati would still like to unload Griffey's salary, although Reds general manager Jim Bowden has resisted their recent overtures.

"We've had no discussions about trading Ken Griffey Jr.," Bowden said yesterday, when reached through a club spokesman. "We plan on starting Opening Day at Great America Park with Ken Griffey in center field for the Reds."

That won't stop the Orioles from trying. Baseball sources said they are willing to package starting pitcher Sidney Ponson with one or two prospects to make the deal happen. Ponson, who pitched two scoreless innings yesterday against the Boston Red Sox, makes his next start Monday - against the Reds.

Another name being floated is Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, with the Reds considering two unorthodox moves this season: using the 6-foot-6 Adam Dunn in the leadoff spot and moving third baseman Aaron Boone to second base.

Behind the scenes for the Orioles, Angelos is said to be pining for a player with Griffey's star power to not only help the lineup but also help stir interest at Camden Yards, where attendance has fallen for five consecutive years.

Last season, the Orioles' first without Cal Ripken, the club drew 2.7 million fans, falling under the 3 million mark for the first time since they moved into Camden Yards, save the strike-shortened season of 1994.

Griffey, 33, was a hot topic at the baseball winter meetings in December.

That's where New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman explained his club's reluctance to pursue Griffey by saying "too much money, too much risk."

For now, the Orioles aren't scared.

Major League Baseball's tampering rules restrict clubs from commenting on specific trade discussions, but several players and personnel inside the Orioles' clubhouse this spring have said they would be thrilled to add Griffey.

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie, speaking only in general terms, confirmed the club is willing to spend to take on a significant contract.

"We've got the resources to do something like that," Beattie said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have gone after Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] or Cliff Floyd. That was the same kind of thing."

Caution flags go up with Griffey because in three years with Cincinnati, he has played in just 326 of the Reds' 486 games and made three trips to the disabled list. During the past two seasons, he has torn both hamstrings and a tendon in his right knee.

Once considered a candidate to break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record (755), Griffey had just eight in 70 games last season, leaving him with 468 for his career.

Bowden, who acquired Griffey three years ago in a trade that sent Mike Cameron to the Mariners, told the Seattle Times last month: "So far, the trade has flopped. It's not [Griffey's] fault. He got hurt. Mike Cameron has outperformed him. That's just reality. Hopefully, in the next three years, the opposite will happen. Not all trades work out as planned."

Asked about Bowden's comment after reporting to spring training, Griffey said, "I'd rather not talk about it." The near trade to San Diego didn't sit well with Griffey, either, especially since Reds manager Bob Boone called Nevin to try to persuade him to accept.

Griffey worked out with former Orlando Magic trainer Darren Oliver this past winter, trying to strengthen both hamstrings and prevent future injuries. So far this spring, Griffey is batting .273 (3-for-11) with one home run and four RBIs.

Beattie said, overall, the trade talks have still been rather slow.

"From our point of view, we don't have anything holding us back," Beattie said. "We're trying to find the right match. Right now, a lot of clubs are saying, `We're just going to wait.' So we're just trying to maintain conversations, let them know where our interests are."

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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