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July 20, 2010 at 8:24 AM

Here’s something else for Mariners to “see” besides Smoak and Saunders in 2nd half: Chone Figgins at third base

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Don’t miss my Talkin’ Baseball segment on KJR AM 950, coming up about 8:35 a.m.
We’ve all talked a lot about how the Mariners need to “see” what Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders can do in what amounts to an otherwise meaningless second half in which the team will attempt to avoid 100 losses.
Here’s what I want to see: Chone Figgins back at third base where he belongs.
If the team wants to wait another 11 days, then I understand. The Detroit Tigers need a third baseman after Brandon Inge broke his hand last night. The Philadelphia Phillies might not be able to afford to wait for Chase Utley to return and could also get a new third baseman, then eventually slide Placido Polanco back over to second in the interim.
In other words, both places are still possible trade destinations for Jose Lopez.
So, if the team wants to keep Lopez at third for now, I understand. But after the deadline? Why not move him back to second base?
I want to figure out what the heck has gone wrong with Figgins this season.
After a decent month of June, his on-base percentage is back down to .304 in July and he’s also hitting just .217 this month.
His fielding at second, while adequate at times, has looked downright out of place at other times. For all the grief we’ve given Figgins in this space, much of it deserved, I will give him credit for attempting to help the team out by switching positions and moving to No. 2 in the batting order without a fuss.
Plenty of guys would be popping off right about now on both those subjects if they were putting up the numbers Figgins has at the plate so far. But Figgins, to his credit, hasn’t even broached the subject. So, I will do it for him.
This was a nice, well-intentioned little experiment back in spring training. And now, it has got to end.

The Mariners have committed $36 million over four years to Figgins and cannot keep jerking him around like this.
If Seattle and the Mariners insist on playing politics with Ichiro and keeping him in the leadoff spot when just about every baseball mind outside of the Emerald City agrees that Figgins should be leading off, well then, hey, you’ve just got to look at who owns the team and figure the rest out.
But there is no excuse for continuing to jerk Figgins around in the field. This team is not owned by a Venezuelan and Jose Lopez is not a franchise cornerstone. If he’s still a member of this team come Aug. 1, I’d like to see Lopez and his lame, all-pull hitting stats put back at second base where he can split time with Josh Wilson, Matt Tuiasosopo, or whoever the rest of the way.
And I want to see Figgins back in his natural comfort zone at third, a position he’s manned regularly for most of the last five years. That way, he can focus on his offensive game instead of having to be preoccupied with his positoning and footwork on a nightly basis as a second baseman.
Talk to people who play and work around baseball and they will tell you a major position switch can contribute to an offensive slump because it gives the hitter something to worry about other than…well, you know…hitting.
The fact that Figgins has played second base sporadically over the years doesn’t matter. There is a difference between doing it part-time and playing the position every single night.
Watch Figgins when he’s actually out there in the field. I’m not talking about his UZR stats or his converted chances. Just watch him out there. He does not look comfortable. And when you commit $36 million to a guy, it makes little sense to take him out of his comfort zone and even less sense to keep him out of that zone once things go south.
No, I do not have a major scientific survey that suggests moving him to third base will cure his offensive woes.
What I have is nearly two thirds of a season worth of a sample size that says Figgins is having one of the worst campaigns of his career. And that, in his early 30s, he might be headed on a downward slope, or maybe, is just having one of those years that was made worse by the position and batting order switch.
Either way, if I’m the Mariners, I want to figure that out pronto.
If this team can keep running Michael Saunders out there nightly in left field with a .304 OBP and .719 OPS in the name of figuring stuff out, then it can certainly move a $36-million investment back to his more comfortable position and see whether that helps him end a season-long malaise.
Because this is not the Figgins the Mariners hoped they were signing.
Yeah, he still draws walks. But the bat has been too inconsistent, for too long.
It’s time to do what this team does for every other player, many of them far less talented than Figgins. Put Figgins back in his comfort zone and give him all the tools he needs in order to succeed.
Figgins is the one who will be here long term. Not Lopez. And honestly, the defensive “advantage” gained by having Figgins up the middle of the infield is not as great as it’s been made out to be. Better for the M’s to start taking a look at the player they invested all that money in. Not the guy they’ve tried to make him to satisfy local leadoff hitter politics and to mitigate a situation with Lopez that is about to draw to an end in any event.

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