KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Atlanta Braves tried to close a deal with Ken Griffey Jr. on Tuesday, hoping the aging slugger who ranks fifth on baseball’s career homer list can bolster an outfield that produced the fewest long balls in the majors last season.The 39-year-old Griffey is clearly past his prime, but his 2008 numbers — a .249 average, 18 homers and 71 RBIs — were more productive than any of Atlanta’s outfielders.
With right fielder Jeff Francoeur having a miserable season and no one able to win full-time jobs in center and left, the Braves got only 27 homers from those three spots.
Griffey had narrowed his search for a new home to Seattle, where he starred from 1989-99, and the Braves, a team his father played for in the 1980s and long on Junior’s wish list.
Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones said he’s talked with Griffey by phone, hoping to persuade him to sign with the Braves.
"Certainly all signs point to this being a good fit for him," Jones said after a spring training workout. "He’s wanted to play here for a long time. Now he gets his opportunity. We’ll see if he follows through."
There were conflicting media reports on Griffey’s status, with one saying he had already chosen to play for the Braves and was merely trying to hammer out the details on a contract that would guarantee him about $2 million, with a chance to earn more through incentives.
But his agent, Brian Goldberg, told The Associated Press in a text message Thursday afternoon that no decision had been made, and Griffey himself told mlb.com that he was going back and forth on what to do.
"We are still kicking things around with my family and have not made a decision," he said. "This is the first time in my career that I have been a free agent, and it’s nerve-racking."
He added that he hoped to decide by Wednesday morning, perhaps in time to report to the Braves for their first full-squad workout. Griffey lives in nearby Orlando and signaled that Atlanta had the upper hand in the negotiations because he could be closer to his family, both in spring training and during the season.
"You know how close I am to my wife and kids," he told mlb.com.
Braves manager Bobby Cox said he would be thrilled to have Griffey on a team that’s trying to bounce back from its worst season since 1990. Atlanta went 72-90 and finished fourth in the NL East, 20 games behind the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.
"Two years ago, he hit 30 homers," Cox pointed out.
The Mariners have declined to discuss their efforts to bring Griffey back to his original team. He split last season between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox before becoming a free agent.
When Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu was asked about Griffey on Tuesday at the team’s spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz., he cupped his ear and jokingly pretended he couldn’t hear.
"What? What was that?" Wakamatsu said.
The rookie manager stuck with his plan to block out any talk about Griffey, saying he’ll work with whatever players management provides.
"I just spent the last 2, 21/2 hours dealing with what I’m dealing with here," Wakamatsu said after a workout for pitchers and catchers. "And I’m happy with that."
The Braves were more open about their desire to sign Griffey. Jones said he would love to have a guy with 611 career homers hitting behind him.
"If he wants to come here and be part of this, hit in the middle of the lineup and play a lot, it’s a good spot for him," Jones said. "I would welcome him with open arms. I know that he’s still Ken Griffey Jr. He’s got some good baseball left in him."