Sox decline options of Griffey, Hall
Chicago signs first free agent in Minor League infielder Nix
CHICAGO -- Ken Griffey Jr. made just as much of an impact with his arm as he did with his more storied hitting prowess during 41 games played with the 2008 White Sox.
It was Griffey's throw from center field to catcher A.J. Pierzynski that nailed Michael Cuddyer at the plate on Brendan Harris' fly ball in the fifth inning of the American League Central tiebreaker game with the Twins. This throw kept the game scoreless, giving Jim Thome a chance to win this contest and the division title with a seventh-inning home run.
Griffey also apparently made quite an impact with his words, according to general manager Ken Williams.
"One of the nicest things somebody has said to me since I've been doing this job came from him this year," Williams said. "He told me that it has been a long time, maybe since he was a little kid, since he had so much laughter and had so much fun playing the game and being in the clubhouse. I wish we had a little more fun for him on the way to a championship."
There was no championship for the White Sox or Griffey, with the specter of that title standing as a primary reason for the Hall of Fame-bound outfielder to agree to the non-waiver deadline deal from the Reds to the White Sox. There also won't be a second season for Griffey on the South Side of Chicago.
The White Sox declined their $16 million option held on Griffey, as announced on Thursday. Griffey receives a $4 million buyout, split between the White Sox and the Reds. With the White Sox already having a glut of outfielders, at least at this point, and Jim Thome in place at designated hitter, Griffey and the White Sox amicably parted.
"When I talked to him about not picking up the option, he was nothing but a class individual -- unbelievably positive," Williams said. "There's just not a fit."
Toby Hall's $2.25 million club option also was declined, as the White Sox paid a $150,000 buyout and made their backup catcher a free agent along with Griffey. Pierzynski and Minor Leaguer Cole Armstrong stand as the only two backstops on the White Sox 40-man roster.
Armstrong, 25, earned high marks from Williams in regard to his overall ability. But Armstrong hits from the left side, as does Pierzynski, and the White Sox don't want to put the youngster in an infrequently used backup role at this stage of his development.
Hall, who recently turned 33, hit .260 in 41 games and 127 at-bats last season. Factoring in Pierzynski's durability, Hall seemed to be a perfect fit for his particular reserve role, with White Sox pitchers compiling a 3.68 ERA when he was behind the plate. Hall also hit .377 against left-handed pitchers.
This particular move didn't come as a surprise to Hall, who still expressed a strong desire to stay with the White Sox.
"My agent has talked about that," said Hall of staying in Chicago. "We all knew it was going to happen. [The 2009 option] was based upon how my contract was set up two years ago, how it was set at a certain thing at that time. But why would I get a raise after two years at a certain salary (two years, $3.65 million)?
"They know where I want to be. I feel at home in the clubhouse and with the pitching staff, with everyone. It's up to them now."
Williams certainly didn't make any assurances in regard to bringing back Hall, even at a reduced salary. He did point out that White Sox fans never got to truly see Hall at full strength, primarily because of a dislocated right shoulder he suffered while playing first base during the last week of Spring Training in 2007, although Hall added that he presently feels good.
"I sincerely thank Toby for his effort," said Williams of his veteran catcher. "When he's healthy, he's a quality player. But we are going to take some time to explore all the options that are out there."
In another move announced Thursday, the White Sox signed free-agent infielder Jayson Nix to a one-year deal. Nix, 26, hit .303 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 67 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2008. He opened the season as the Rockies' starting second baseman, but lost his job to Clint Barmes after hitting .125 in 56 at-bats.
Nix was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team that won the bronze medal in Beijing. He suffered a laceration above his left eye on Aug. 14 and missed five games before starting the bronze-medal game against Japan. Nix, a Colorado sandwich pick (44th overall) in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, falls in the same basic category as Carlos Quentin, where a change of scenery could help this talent flourish.
"Getting an opportunity with this organization was a good fit for me," said Nix from Mexico, where he is playing winter ball.
Much of Thursday's White Sox focus falls upon Griffey, who posted a .260 average with three home runs and 18 RBIs after being acquired from Cincinnati in exchange for pitcher Nick Masset and infielder Danny Richar. Griffey spoke of how much he enjoyed his time with the White Sox after the Rays eliminated his team from the AL Division Series. Griffey also expressed a strong desire to keep playing.
His 21st season just won't be with the White Sox.
"We weren't trying to lean on him to be anything more than he was," said Williams of Griffey.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.