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August 13, 2010 at 9:15 AM

Mariners should seriously consider pulling trigger on any Chone Figgins deal with Atlanta

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Going to try to write this without ticking everybody off. By now, most of you know that Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is out for the season. We discussed, prior to the trade deadline, how the Braves had approached the Mariners about dealing for Chone Figgins. I’ve since been told the Braves viewed Figgins as a player worth $6 million per season, not the $9 million per year guy the M’s made him. So, at the time, had it gotten that far, that’s what Atlanta was prepared to eat on the contract, maybe throwing in a player with a pulse.
The Braves needed Figgins to play center field and were looking at him as a third base replacement for Jones next year, since the latter planned to retire. They hate the idea of Figgins at second base, feeling it’s his worst position.
Well, things have obviously changed. The Braves need a third baseman now, or could blow their playoff race with the Phillies. If I’m the Mariners, my goal will be to shed as much of that Figgins contract as possible and the desperation factor now introduced to the Braves might make that more possible now than next winter.
Never mind the player coming back this way. I’d go for a prospect if possible. But it’s the money that’s the big factor here.
This post yesterday on USS Mariner did a pretty good job of laying out why the M’s should move the Figgins contract. It doesn’t matter that he’s hitting better in the second half. The Mariners signed Figgins when they were planning to “go for it” this year and next. That’s also why they traded for Cliff Lee and, more tellingly, dealt Brandon Morrow for a reliever with two years of club control in Brandon League.
Now, that contention plan is shot. The M’s flipped Lee for prospects, as they should have. And they now must jettison the Figgins money since this team will not contend next year and he’ll be 34 before he can contribute to anything that matters.
But there’s another, important reason the Figgins deal should be made ASAP and it has nothing to do with contending. More like the team’s payroll and the way this roster will have to be structured for years to come if Figgins remains.

The Mariners, at present, are paying roughly $90 million for their on-field product. At least, they were on Opening Day. There was other money allocated to Erik Bedard and players who are no longer here, bumping the total payroll up to $93.5 million.
But of that $90 million, $27 million of it is going to Figgins and Ichiro. That’s 30 percent of the total budget for the on-field product. And it’s ridiculous. It gets laughed at by people outside of Seattle and around the game of baseball.
“Why on Earth would they be paying that much for two leadoff hitters?” is a common refrain.
The other phrase I hear a lot is: “Why would you pay that much for Figgins to duplicate what you already have?”
There are two issues here. For one, Figgins is essentially being paid/overpaid to be a leadoff hitter that he was in Anaheim. Problem is, he will never be allowed to be a leadoff hitter in Seattle. That’s one huge reason he should be moved. The whole No. 2 thing just isn’t working out. And even on nights, or in months, when it does work out between Figgins and Ichiro in a 1-2 punch, the run-scoring results aren’t really there.
Well, how can they be? You’re spending 30 percent of payroll on two guys whose biggest threats are to drop an infield single and steal a base.
There isn’t another team in baseball spending relatively that much on the top two guys in the order. And let’s remember, the Mariners are one of the worst offensive teams of all-time. Not just relative to this era. We’re talking any era. The Dead Ball Era. The pre-DH Era. The Whitey Herzog Cardinals era.
To keep this Ichiro-Figgins arrangement going forward is sheer lunacy, unless this team wants to take payroll well over $100 million. Yeah, you’ll be saving some money at first base with Justin Smoak. And at second base with Dustin Ackley, if he’s ready. But this team will eventually have to spend money if it plans to contend in a few years. And right now, tying up 30 percent of your payroll on Ichiro and Figgins doesn’t work.
Remember a few weeks back when I suggested Ichiro might actually pay for himself? That he’s essentially a freebie? Well, it’s since been pointed out to me by a number of people that this simply is not the case. The Mariners do a limited business on ticket sales to Japanese tour groups, though hardly what they were back in his 2001 debut season. There are other small opportunities here and there that might knock a few million off his $18 million salary.
But Ichiro is not paying for himself.
It’s safe to say there are very few teams that will pay that much money for the type of production he brings to the table. The Mariners have decided to do that and they have their reasons for it, I suppose.
But then they can’t be paying $9 million a year to a guy like Figgins that’s pretty much his clone when all goes well. Not on a team as power-deprived as the Mariners. Not when you’d be hard-pressed to find other clubs willing to give Figgins that much money for that many years.
Don’t forget, Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez are going to be heading towards the pricier parts of their contracts in coming years.
So, while Smoak and Ackley will save the M’s some bucks. there will be mounting expenses. And the team will need some payroll flexibility that it will be hard-pressed to find by spending 30 percent of it on the Nos. 1 and 2 guys in the order.
One of them has to go. And you know it won’t be No. 1.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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