Overrated, yet still great, Ken Griffey Jr. left a mark

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griffey.jpgA massive talent with a big smile he wore constantly, Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the scene in 1989, hitting 16 homers and finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing the entire season at age 19.
Griffey just made it look so easy. And there were times in his mid-20s when he really was baseball’s best player. He led the AL in homers four times, won an MVP award in 1997 and finished in the top five on four other occasions. Capitalizing on one of baseball’s greatest offensive eras, he drove in 140 runs in three straight seasons.
Griffey, though, was not the best player of the 1990s. That was Barry Bonds. He never led the American League in batting average or on-base percentage. He topped the circuit in slugging only once. It’s true he had more defensive value than most of the guys who were outslugging him. But the one MVP award was truly all he deserved.
We know what happened to Griffey after the 1990s. Following a trade to the Reds in Feb. 2000, he put up one All-Star caliber season and then spent much of the next four years on the DL. In 8 1/2 years with the Reds, he played in 945 games, hitting .270/.362/.514. Just once did he finish in the top 10 in the NL in OPS (7th in 2005).
As a Red, Griffey was a big disappointment. As a Mariner, his teams were chronic underacheivers. In his 22 seasons, Griffey went to the postseason just three times and his clubs won only one postseason series. Griffey did come through in a big way in 1995, hitting five homers in the ALDS win over the Yankees and then putting together another strong series against the Indians in the ALCS loss. However, he went on to go a mere 2-for-15 in the 1997 ALDS loss, and he wasn’t a factor in the 2008 postseason, going 2-for-10 as the White Sox were eliminated by the Rays.
Griffey is certainly a Hall of Famer. Fairly or not, he’s gone untarnished despite playing during the Steroid Era, mostly because he never looked like a user. He was a brilliant player with a gorgeous swing that produced 630 homers. Before his legs began to go, he was an outstanding center fielder.
I just wish I remembered those days better. Griffey spent about four or five too many seasons patrolling center when he would have helped the Reds more in a corner. He didn’t drive in 100 runs in any of his final 10 seasons. It’s been so long since he was a true great that it’s easy to forget just how good he was.

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.