The hometown first baseman hems and haws while the Cubs and Rays wait.
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 13, 2001
MONTREAL -- On the field, Fred McGriff doesn't appear to do anything quickly. So it's probably not surprising that he's taking his time deciding whether to approve a trade from the Rays to the Cubs.
McGriff stayed and played for the Rays on Thursday, though there were a few uncertain pregame moments as the result of a prank. Bench coach Billy Hatcher took down the original lineup card and posted a new one without McGriff's name anywhere on it.
Cubs officials, meanwhile, said they were "optimistic" the deal still could be worked out and were willing to give McGriff a few more days to decide. Rays officials said they didn't have anything new to report.
As for McGriff? He answered questions for five minutes, but didn't say or do much to clear up the situation.
McGriff made it sound, once again, like he wasn't planning to leave, but he wouldn't rule it out. In one sentence he said the decision wasn't just his, that "it's up to the Cubbies, up to everybody," then said it had "nothing to do" with the Cubs.
More than anything, he seemed as if he really didn't want to say much. And he came across as perhaps just a bit resentful that the Rays had put him in this position, several times suggesting reporters talk instead to Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, even though the unresolved issue is between McGriff and the Cubs.
So what is he going to do?
"I don't know," McGriff said. "We'll see, we'll see. I've got a no-trade clause. I get to see my family all the time, I'm happy."
Does that mean the trade is not going to happen?
So is the deal dead?
"Nothing's ever dead, no. We've got until what, July 31 or whatever? I've got to do what I've got to do, everybody else has got to do what they've got to do. Go ask Chuck, ask Chuck and Vince (Naimoli, the managing general partner) and all them."
Naimoli said he knew less about the situation than reporters did. LaMar was traveling and unavailable for comment. Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said he was not aware of any official communication from McGriff or agent Jim Krivacs.
For now, Rays manager Hal McRae said he plans to keep McGriff in the lineup, though he acknowledged the uniqueness of the situation. If nothing else, the Rays might fear McGriff getting hurt, with the injury killing the potential deal. "There's no fear," McRae said. "He's going to play."
The Rays and Cubs agreed to the trade on Tuesday, with McGriff to go to the NL-leading Cubs in exchange for minor leaguers Jason Smith and Manny Aybar. The Rays would save about $2.9-million in salary this year and unburden themselves of McGriff's $6.75-million option for next year, while the Cubs would get the big left-handed bat they desire.
But McGriff, who got the Rays to include a complete no-trade clause when he re-signed at the end of the 1999 season, is using it to his advantage.
As inducements to get him to waive it, the Cubs have offered to guarantee his salary for next season, and have discussed giving him another no-trade clause, as well as the option to leave at the end of this season if he desires.
"I'm still optimistic that something will be done," Cubs manager Don Baylor said in Chicago. "He hasn't said yes, either, but he hasn't said no. I'm pretty sure he's still contemplating what he's going to do. ... I think (Cubs general manager) Andy MacPhail did a tremendous job in terms of contract, no-trade, giving him the option to walk away from if he didn't like it here. I think he went overboard to get it done. The money's not an issue."
There is speculation, however, that McGriff, perhaps even at the suggestion of the players union, is looking for some other compensation for waiving the no-trade clause, whether it be additional money or some type of contract offer for 2003.
MacPhail said the Cubs are willing to wait at least a few more days, but didn't say they would negotiate further.
"I've talked to Fred's agent and we're still in a holding pattern," MacPhail said in Chicago. "They've given us no indication that the answer is no. It will take a couple of days to work through things and I certainly respect that. He had the no-trade provision in there for a reason. That's his home and he wanted to stay close to his family."
McGriff did make one thing clear -- he doesn't appreciate all the speculation and attention. "The whole thing is, from the start this was no story," McGriff said.
Hatcher, meanwhile, tried to disassociate himself from a prank that sparked news bulletins across two countries.
When McRae got word McGriff wasn't on the team bus to the stadium, he made a second lineup card. Hatcher took the first one down then -- apparently for dramatic effect -- posted the second one while McGriff was in McRae's office.
"I thought I should let the other guys know (about the possible switch)," he said, trying to keep a straight face. "I should have left them both up, but I took one down. Actually, we took a vote among the coaches, and the majority said to put the other one up ... "