McGriff accepts Cubs' invite

Chicago CubsSportsTampa Bay RaysRondell WhiteMatt StairsRon CoomerAtlanta Braves

The announcement flashed across the scoreboard at Wrigley Field a few minutes before 3 p.m. Friday: The final vote from Florida had been counted. Tampa Bay's Fred McGriff had agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the Cubs. A wave of cheers followed.

Nineteen days after the Cubs and Devil Rays agreed to swap McGriff for lightly regarded minor-leaguers Manny Aybar and Jason Smith, the veteran slugger finally decided that helping the Cubs chase a pennant beat staying close to his home in Tampa.

"I didn't want to make a hasty decision," McGriff said. "I knew I had time to think about it. I wanted to analyze things."

While McGriff said all along that family issues were paramount, it appears that financial considerations also played a role.

All along Cubs general manager Andy MacPhail was willing to guarantee McGriff's 2002 option year or let the 37-year-old first baseman depart via free agency. That's still part of the deal.

MacPhail also agreed early in the process to boost McGriff's 2002 salary from $6.75 million to $7.25 million.

In another attempt to accommodate McGriff, MacPhail agreed to a mutual option in 2003.

The Cubs either can pay him $8.5 million or buy him out for $500,000. Depending on the team's decision, McGriff either could play for the Cubs or take the buyout and become a free agent.

"I wanted to construct a scenario where he controlled his own destiny," MacPhail said.

That was clearly important to McGriff, who also was given a full no-trade clause as long as he remains with the Cubs.

"I had to think about everything as far as do I want to play and where do I want to play and how long do I want to play," he said.

The Cubs went into this season figuring Hee Seop Choi would take over at first base in 2002. But an injury to his left wrist has slowed the power-hitting Korean since late May.

Choi is expected to return to Triple-A Iowa's lineup next week, but team officials doubt he'll be ready for the big leagues on Opening Day in 2002. By convincing McGriff to agree to the trade, the Cubs can be patient with Choi.

"That's one of the reasons it was a good fit for us," MacPhail said.

There are countless other reasons.

McGriff, a five-time All-Star who hit .318 with 19 homers and 61 RBIs in 97 games for the Devil Rays, will provide a presence that the Cubs' lineup has lacked.

"He's a legitimate [cleanup] hitter," manager Don Baylor said. "He has hit in big lineups before with the Braves. He's a clutch RBI guy."

McGriff is scheduled to be in the Cubs' lineup Sunday night, which means any roster changes to accommodate him don't have to be made until then.

The Cubs have gotten subpar results from their five cleanup hitters this season. Matt Stairs, Ron Coomer, Sammy Sosa, Todd Hundley and Rondell White have combined to bat .240 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in that spot.

Stairs is hitting .215 in July and hasn't homered since June 24.

Sosa has been walked intentionally 27 times this season, the most of any player in baseball and two shy of the club's all-time record.

In 1998, the year he hit 66 homers, opposing pitchers intentionally walked him 14 times. He is on pace for 43 this year.

"Sammy's probably the happiest of everyone," Delino DeShields said.

DeShields was right.

"That's an unbelievable move for the whole ballclub," Sosa said. "We needed a guy like that. Every time they walk me intentionally, I'm on base and hoping someone can hit a double and I can score. But now it's going to be different."

Two other factors made the deal appear lopsided. The Cubs will receive $1 million from the Devil Rays if McGriff remains in Chicago next season.

And as for the players the Cubs gave up, the 26-year-old Aybar had been outrighted to Triple-A in June.

And Smith, technically a player to be named because he's on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, was batting .233 at Iowa with 19 errors in 70 games.

"The more we evaluated," MacPhail said, "the more it became clear to us that this was our best option."

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