(Photo by Associated Press)
Well, it took awhile, but the Mariners finally made a move that was greeted with unanimous approval from their fans. I haven’t heard from one person who said, “Gee, the Mariners were a little hasty on Chone Figgins. He deserves another chance.”
Instead, the reaction was predictably giddy, and why not? Figgins had become a symbol of the Mariners’ malaise, and they simply had to get him off their roster, for everyone’s sake. That doesn’t mean Figgins is a bad person; he had just been a bad ballplayer for much of the first three years of his four-year, $36-million contract. About the only time it looked like Figgins might click in Seattle was in the second half of his first season when, after a slow start, he hit .286 with a .349 on-base percentage over the final 74 games. There was reason to think that his early struggles were an aberration, and Figgins would come back in 2011 and be the kind of player he had been in Anaheim, the kind of player the Mariners banked on him being in Seattle.
But it never happened, of course, not even with a move back to third base, where Figgins said he felt more comfortable. Not even with the deparature of Don Wakamatsu, with whom he had clashed. And, last season, not even when he moved back to the leadoff spot, which is where he had thrived with the Angels. When manager Eric Wedge finally pulled Figgins out of his starting job last May, it was readily evident to everyone that he no longer had a role with the Mariners. Wedge talked about making Figgins a “super-utility” man, and then almost never played him. He had 56 at-bats after June 1.
But at every juncture when they could have cut Figgins, the Mariners hung onto him, hoping against hope for a revival that never came or a trade that never materialized. Or simply unwilling to write the huge check that would be required for Figgins to go away.
The result, of course, is that the Mariners ended up with the worst of all worlds — a player who didn’t help, and who inflamed fan resentment, and who got paid anyway. It was patently obvious that they couldn’t bring Figgins to spring training again in 2013, so with the occasion of a deadline to set the 40-man roster, they made the inevitable move tonight of designating Figgins for assignment — in essence, cutting him. The check they will write, some $8 million, is not quite as oppressive as it would have been had they done so during last season, or last offseason, but let’s be real: The Mariners squandered a lot more money than that on Figgins, a virtual non-entity the past two seasons. Psychologically, it might not hurt as much to eat $8 million as eating $12 million or $15 million or whatever it would have cost earlier, but the result is pretty much the same. The hidden cost, however, was a squandered roster spot and a lot of fan discontentment.
That’s not say, mind you, that Figgins’ career is over. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Figgins, at age 34, experiences a revival. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble finding a team willing to bring him to camp, though probably on a minor-league contract, knowing they’ll owe him just the major-league minimum ($490,000) if he makes the team. And sometimes the rejuvenating effect of being removed from the pressure situation of having to live up to a big free-agent contract can be amazing. And sometimes, simply a change of scenery works wonders. I can think of three situations in particular where that happened with players cast aside by the Mariners: Jeff Cirillo, Rich Aurilia and Scott Spiezio all went on to have productive seasons after they flamed out in Seattle. I’ve used Spiezio before as an example of a player I would have sworn was done as a major-leaguer when he hit .064 (3-for-47) for the Mariners in 2005 and was released mid-season. But Spiezio re-surfaced in St. Louis the next year and hit .272 with 13 homers and an .862 OPS. He came away with a World Series ring.
I’m not saying that will happen with Figgins, but it very well could, and if so, more power to him. I wish him well. I just think the Mariners should have let him start the revival phase of his career much earlier.