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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 10, 2012 at 1:31 PM

Chone Figgins could give Mariners a lovely parting gift

figginsscoring.jpg

Chone Figgins congratulated after scoring in the first inning of Saturday’s game in Oakland. Photo by Associated Press.

We have come to praise Chone Figgins, not to bury him.

Admit it — this far into the season, we all expected to be filled with righteous indignation over the fact the Mariners insisted on playing Figgins, despite his glaring, and ongoing, lack of production. It was certainly trending that way after two games in Japan, when Figgins came home with one hit in eight at-bats, a .125 average that had the detractors out in full force.

Since then, however, it has been a new-look Figgins, one that has scarcely been seen in Seattle over the past two seasons. He has been a force at the leadoff spot, doing almost everything you want from the No. 1 hitter — working the count, hitting with authority, instigating rallies, bunting, even driving in runs. You might want more than one walk in five games, but with an on-base percentage over .400, it’s hard to complain too much. This guy has been a lot of fun to watch, so much so that you wonder where he’s been hiding.

Of course, it’s just as foolish to declare Figgins “cured” after three good games as it was to declare his season a disaster after two sub-par ones. But it is reasonable to wonder if perhaps this move to the leadoff spot — the Mariners’ final hope in revitalizing Figgins — is what Figgins needed to revert back to the form that made Seattle give him a four-year, $36-million contract in the first place. Perhaps not all the way back, but close enough to make him a desirable player again. And if other teams desire Figgins, that could work out well for the Mariners as the season progresses.

Geoff has a post up today about the Mariners’ “good problem” — finding playing time for Kyle Seager once Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez come off the disabled list. Obviously, that scenario affects Michael Saunders as well. The fact is, for a team that has stunk so badly at hitting in recent years, they are developing a glut of position-playing prospects. There’s Alex Liddi, Vinnie Catricala, Carlos Peguero (who just went on the disabled list in Tacoma and needs knee surgery, it was just announced — a tough break), with shortstop Nick Franklin knocking on the door and Brad Miller right behind. That’s a lot of players to look at and a lot of decisions to make.

For a building team like the Mariners, one that isn’t likely to contend this year or perhaps even next year but hopes to build a contender soon out of its young prospects, Figgins is an obvious trade candidate. At age 34, he’s not going to be part of a building project, but he could conceivably help put a team over the top. Heading into this season, it was hard to imagine that Figgins had any trade value. But the way he’s hit the last few days has to give the Mariners hope that he could again actually become a player that other teams would want. Certainly, the pesky Figgins of his Angels prime, or a reasonable facsimile thereof– a guy who got on base, could steal a few bags, and play all over the field — is one who could certainly help a contender. I’m not sure if any team would take on all of his remaining $18 million, but the better Figgins plays, the less the Mariners would have to eat.

This is very early to have this discussion, but it certainly is more appealing than the opposite one, which could, of course, re-appear, depending on how things go. Namely, how long can the Mariners stick with Figgins if he’s not producing? A productive Figgins gives the Mariners a much more palatable option — one that could eventually help the Mariners clear out their logjam of young players trying to carve out more playing time.

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