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February 19, 2012 at 6:48 PM

Besides Ichiro, Mariners have little choice other than Chone Figgins when it comes to leading off

The Mariners would have needed to take out front page ads in both the Seattle and New York Times to have dropped any broader hints that Ichiro would be moved out of the leadoff role this season.
Ichiro is still a hugely popular player in Seattle, as you can see from the video above, shot this afternoon when he stopped to sign autographs while coming off the field.
But he really wasn’t a very good leadoff hitter last year. In fact, he was one of the worst — if not the worst — in all of baseball. And the Mariners are one of the worst-scoring teams in baseball history the past two years, so something’s gotta give.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge hasn’t been openly musing about the idea of moving Ichiro out of the leadoff spot just to kill time between seasons. No manager would risk the fallout just for kicks. Wedge has been very slowly paving the way for this to happen since the end of last season.
He’s kept Ichiro in the loop every step of the way so as not to create any misunderstandings.
But again: the writing has been on the wall for some time. I’m a little surprised at some of the uproar I keep seeing on the blog and my Twitter feed. I know that some of you are upset that Chone Figgins is almost certainly going to get first crack at the job.
But really, if not Figgins, who else?

Remember, Figgins was not batting leadoff the last two years when his numbers plummeted. Prior to that, he was the leadoff hitter with the Angels and one of the best in baseball at that role.
But OK, I can understand if you don’t like the idea.
Who else?
Dustin Ackley could potentially handle the job. But the Mariners don’t want him up top.
They like Ackley as a No. 3 hitter on this team. He might not get to hit there, depending on what happens with Ichiro. But they’d like Ackley to hit third.
Otherwise, he’ll bat second.
But he won’t be the primary leadoff guy.
Trayvon Robinson? He has to worry about getting his OBP up above .300 and cutting down on all of those strikeouts first. You can’t have a non-contact guy in the leadoff role.
But yes, in a perfect world where every prospect reaches their full, imagined potential, he is a guy the M’s would love to see morph into a leadoff type some day. But it isn’t happening right now.
When the decision was made last summer not to release Figgins, the Mariners owed it to themselves to at least try to revive his career. To at least try to get some value out of a four-year deal now halfway done.
We’ve talked about this since last summer. Most teams don’t eat $20 million worth of salary. That’s the type of deal that gets GMs fired, even if they make five good moves in the interim.
No, the M’s were always going to try to salvage this. And until they put Figgins in the leadoff role for an extended time, they’ll never be able to say they fully tried to save something from this deal.
So, now we wait and see. Leadoff hitter for life? No. But seriously. This was one of the worst offenses ever put on a field. You don’t get better by standing still. Moving Ichiro out of leadoff has been in the cards since the middle of last season, only the team decided to do it over the long, slow term — with a lot of behind-the-scenes talking along the way.
And until somebody better steps up, Figgins is the best option among guys who have handled the job with success. You try him out. If he fails, then — and only then — do you cut bait.
Heck, the team waited this long. Not much else to lose.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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