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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.

August 7, 2012 at 6:22 AM

It’s time for Mariners to end the Chone Figgins charade

figginscatch.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

Way back on May 24, there was a flurry of anticipation from Mariners fans as Miguel Olivo was ready for activation from the disabled list. Many thought this was the moment when the Mariners would cut ties with Chone Figgins, who had lost his starting job in left field (where he was playing because of Mike Carp’s injury in the first game of the season in Japan; otherwise, Figgins would have likely spent the first month-plus at third base, where he started Opening Day, and the Kyle Seager emergence would have been delayed).

Figgins was hitting .180 and playing sporadically — just four starts in May to that point. It seemed plausible the Mariners would bite the bullet and eat the remainder of Figgins’ four-year, $36-million contract.

Instead, they optioned Casper Wells to Tacoma, to much outcry and indignation from fans and media. Wells is back and playing fairly regularly in the Mariners outfield. And Figgins is still here, clogging up a roster spot that could go to a player who would give manager Eric Wedge some more flexibility in lineup construction and late-inning manueverability.

The Mariners have played 65 games since they chose to keep Figgins in late May. He has played in 27 of them, and started 14. He’s hitting .173 with a .254 on-base percentage in that time. Overall, he’s hitting .178 with a .249 on-base percentage. His .512 OPS is third-lowest in the majors among players with at least 150 at-bats. Last year was even worse — a .484 OPS, lowest among all MLB players with at least 300 plate apperances, to go with a .188 batting average and .241 on-base percentage.

It should be apparent to everyone that it’s just not happening here for Figgins. And that Figgins is only a last resort for Wedge.

Back on May 24, Wedge said cutting Figgins wasn’t even considered.

“Not right now,” Wedge said that night. “Right now, that’s not even an option for us. With Chone, as you all know — we were very open with you (media) guys about that — we wanted to give him every opportunity to get back on track. We feel like we did that, leading him off, switching his role a little bit, and it didn’t work out.

“So now, he’s a utility player and a super utility player at that. He gives us protection. We’ll play him when we need him. We’ll use him how we see fit to help us win ballgames and go from there. You knew that that was the next option if it didn’t work out. And that’s where we are right now.”

Well, the super utility role hasn’t worked out, either, just like moving back to third last year didn’t work out, and moving back to leadoff this year didn’t work out. It hasn’t helped them win games. And if the Mariners goal was to showcase Figgins’ versatility so that another team would take him and give the Mariners something to show for it — a prospect, or some salary relief — that hasn’t happened either, and I daresay won’t. And now Wedge is still being hamstrung in his game management because he doesn’t have a more viable option on the bench.

Granted, it’s not like Tacoma is teeming with players demanding to be called up. But wouldn’t it be better to look at someone who might be part of the future, like a Vinnie Catricala (who hasn’t had nearly the year expected of him, hitting .238 with nine homers and 53 RBIs and a .663 OPS) or Carlos Triunfel, or someone having a better year, like Darren Ford ; all three are right-handed bats, which Wedge really needs to have at his disposal to deploy against left-handed starters. Luis Rodriguez is still around, hitting nearly .300. And there’s always the waiver wire, bursting with action this time of year. Surely, there must be someone of more use to the Mariners than Figgins is right now, and more palatable to fans who long ago came to their verdict on Figgins. Guess who’s running away with this poll?

It still comes down to money, of course, but the passage of time has eased that burden. Now the Mariners’ obligation to Figgins is down to about $2.7 million for the remainder of this year, and $8 million for next season. That’s a little over $10 million they would have to swallow, which won’t go down well, of course. But it also comes down, yet again, to the sunk-cost theory. The mistake has been made, and they’re going to have to pay the money, regardless. The only question remaining is whether they want a useful player on the roster for the duration of his contract, or not. That same logic would have applied in May, of course, but no need to hash that over again.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario by which the Mariners bring Figgins into spring training next year. It’s also hard to imagine a scenario by which they find someone to trade him to. And I sense that Figgins would welcome the opportunity to regroup and try to restore his career in a different environment. To his credit, he’s still working hard and trying his best. He hasn’t been a negative presence in the clubhouse. I could see him landing with another team, perhaps not until next year in spring training on a minor-league contract, and forging a role for himself. If it happened with Scott Spiezio, it could happen with anyone. It can be rejuvenating to get away from the burden and pressure of a big contract.

But it’s not going to happen here, with all the baggage of the last nearly three years. And the Mariners need every weapon at their disposal to win as many games as possible and finish this season on a positive note. So it’s time, for the good of everyone, to send Chone Figgins on his way.

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