Griffey, Mariners closer to reuniting for 2009 season

Published 4:38 am Friday, February 13, 2009

With talks apparently progressing rapidly between Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners, the last obstacle to Griffey’s long-anticipated return to Seattle could be a physical examination early next week.

And Cincinnati Reds team physician Tim Kremchek doesn’t believe passing a physical will be problem for the oft-injured outfielder, who turned 39 in November.

“I can’t imagine any problem,” Kremchek said by phone from Cincinnati. “I’ve known Junior 10 years. I’ve operated on his right shoulder, his wrist, his right knee, left knee, his foot and hamstring.

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“He’s lost some weight, and looks to be in good shape. I think he’s ready to go mentally and physically. I don’t want to put pressure on the doctor doing the physical, but I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t pass.”

The Mariners, sources say, are moving toward finalization of a one-year, incentive-laden contract that would bring back the franchise’s most celebrated player.

Griffey, playing at a golf tournament in the Bay Area, seemed unaware of the reports.

“We don’t know what we’re doing next year with respect to Seattle. It’s all rumors,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday after finishing his round at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in California.

“I really don’t even know. My agent is handling,” he said moments after stepping off the course.

Asked if he still wants to play despite knee surgery last October, Griffey told AP “As long as it’s still fun, I want to keep playing.”

Reached in Cincinnati, Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg, declined to comment other than to acknowledge there are ongoing discussions with the Mariners.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “I’m not going to comment on anything pertaining to free-agents we haven’t signed or any talks that might be ongoing. That’s been our company policy and I’d like it to stay that way.”

Griffey’s broke in with the Mariners and played his prime year in Seattle, which included American League West titles in 1995 and 1997. Griffey was traded to the Reds after the 1999 season, and rumors of a possible return have floated frequently in recent years.

Griffey, who ranks fifth in baseball history with 611 home runs, struggled in 2008. He hit .249 with 18 homers and 71 runs batted in for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.

But Griffey’s proponents point out that he played much of the year with an injured left knee that prevented him from driving with his plant leg. Kremchek performed arthroscopic surgery in October to repair partially torn meniscus and cartilage, and believes the procedure should help restore Griffey’s power. Griffey hit 30 homers and drove in 93 runs in 2007.

“I’ll tell you this: He’ll be a different guy than you saw last year,” said Kremchek. “He’s able to run, he has more flexibility. His hamstring is strong. His leg feels good. His shoulder is stable. He’s in as good shape as he’s been in a few years.”

Griffey remains one of the few prominent players who has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and Kremchek believes there’s a valid reason.

“With all the allegations about steroids, he’s a clean player,” he said. “As far as marquee players, he’s the cleanest player I know.”

Griffey is paired with pro Jason Bohn at the Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am while competing in a foursome that also includes ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman.

It appears that if a tentative deal is reached, Griffey would come to the Phoenix area early next week for his physical. The Mariners’ first full-squad workout is Wednesday in Peoria, Ariz.