Griffey preparing to return to center field
Outfielder says he'll keep open mind after Reds suggest move
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. has previously resisted any notion or suggestion that he should move to a corner outfielder's spot.Therefore, when asked again about his willingness to move positions at the annual Winter Meetings on Tuesday, it was no surprise that Griffey didn't say yes. But this time, he didn't say no either. "I'm preparing myself to play center field," Griffey said before accepting a lifetime achievement award from Baseball America. "That's the only way I know how to prepare myself each and every year. We'll see what happens. I'm going into Spring Training [with the understanding] that I'm the center fielder." There is no debate that Griffey is one of the best center fielders to ever play the game. He is a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, but has not won a Gold Glove since coming to Cincinnati from Seattle in 2000. Now 37 years old, he can still make his share of spectacular plays but lacks the same range he had a decade ago. That's because injuries, mostly to his legs, have marred most of Griffey's seven seasons with the Reds. He hasn't played 145 games since 2000. He played just 70 games in 2002, followed by 53 games in 2003 and 83 games in 2004. He played 128 games in 2005 and was limited to 109 games this past season. A strained biceps tendon in his right knee in April put Griffey on the disabled list for a month. A dislocated right toe suffered Sept. 4 while trying to climb the outfield fence limited Griffey to just two pinch-hit at-bats over the Reds' final 24 games of 2006. In Griffey's mind, the wear and tear he endures during a season wouldn't change much if he became a corner outfielder. "It's going to be the same either way," he said. "I've got to prepare myself to go out there and play 162 games, and that's it." Griffey batted .252 with 27 home runs and 72 RBIs last season for Cincinnati. His 563 career home runs tie him with Reggie Jackson for 10th on the all-time list. This offseason, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky and manager Jerry Narron said they've discussed shifting Griffey. "The main thing with Junior is we want to make sure we put him where he's going to be on the field as much as possible," Narron said Tuesday. Unless the Reds acquired a proven center fielder, Ryan Freel and Chris Denorfia would be the only in-house candidates capable of taking over in center field. Freel is a utility player expected to play a lot in right field next season, and the Reds like to move him around the field. Denorfia, a prospect who's had several callups, has yet to prove himself in the Majors.
Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, said the Reds have contacted him to broach the subject of moving."They asked us to open-minded about it," Goldberg said. If asked, would Griffey be willing to move out of center field? "We'll cross that bridge when we cross it," the veteran responded. "Right now, it's a matter of me going out there and playing center for this team and not worrying about speculation or what people think. I have to go out and prepare."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.