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May 24, 2012 at 12:28 PM

Mariners avoid making Chone Figgins call, but can’t keep doing nothing with him

Casper Wells looks to be off to Class AAA in an announcement the Mariners will likely make within the next couple of hours. Miguel Olivo is on his way back off the disabled list and will likely be in uniform tonight, especially with the team’s backup catcher, John Jaso, still sore from the other night.
But the Mariners are still not doing anything with Chone Figgins. And that can’t go on indefinitely. Not at the price of young players who are supposed to factor in to this ongoing rebuilding plan.
The M’s could have kept Wells in the majors and simply designated Figgins for assignment. In that case, they would have had 10 days to outright him to the minors (which he’d likely refuse and opt for free agency), trade him or release him.
That the Mariners are not willing to part with a player they are on-the-hook to just under $16 million in remaining money is understandable. You can’t blame any team or general manager for not wanting to swallow that kind of cash. No matter how many good moves Jack Zduriencik makes, once he swallows $16 million with 1 2/3 seasons to go on any player’s contract, that will offset three or four future positive things the GM might do.
That’s how ownership views these types of losses.
So, no. You can’t blame the team for refusing to cut the Figgins cord just yet.
What you can blame the M’s for, as I mentioned on Sports Radio KJR in my one-hour special last night, is continuing with the status quo.
They have given six plate appearances to Figgins since May 3. One long game’s worth of PAs in three weeks.
If the object is to recoup some value for Figgins, how do they plan to do that when they aren’t playing him? That’s what you can blame the team and the GM for. For doing nothing and making others pay for it.
Photo Credit: AP

There isn’t much middle ground here. You’re either keeping Figgins around because you need him, or because you want to trade him.
In either case, sitting Figgins on an almost-permanent basis satisfies neither need.
There are probably still teams out there that value the skillset Figgins brings to the table as well as his versatility. They just don’t value it at $16 million.
Maybe the magic number is $1 million. Maybe $2 million.
Maybe there’s some team out there that figures that type of money is worth the gamble in hoping that they can fix whatever has been ailing Figgins and his game since 2010.
If those teams are out there, let them step up and name their price. And let the Mariners pay it and move on.
Otherwise, waiting around while Figgins takes up a roster spot does nothing.
The Mariners clearly don’t need Figgins on the field. They needed him the past month when Miguel Olivo went down and left the team short yet another right-handed bat. Did they play Figgins and use his switch-hitting ability from the right side? No.
They played Wells instead.
So, if they value Wells and his bat more than Figgins, why is Wells going? Sure, he has Class AAA options left and I’ve always said, in a tough choice situation, there’s a reason they call them “options”.
You don’t want to part with a guy forever if you can part with another guy temporarily.
But that’s only for tough calls. This call isn’t really that tough. It is tough for financial reasons, but again, if the Mariners don’t plan on doing anything to improve the trade value Figgins currently has, why are they keeping him around?
For his good looks? For his sage advice? Players who aren’t good enough to play for a team are not the ones other players seek out for advice. The whole veteran leadership thing only works when you’re actually contributing to something on the field. Otherwise, you’re what’s known as a “coach” and paid a lot less than $16 million over 1 2/3 seasons.
So, if we can be critical of the M’s here, it’s for being stubborn in their refusal to admit the obvious.
They don’t think Figgins is good enough to play for them more than six plate appearances in three weeks, even with a shortage of right-handed hitting options.
They aren’t doing anything that’s going to increase his trade value, like playing him so his attrocious numbers can improve and his reputation can be restored.
And yet, they just sent down a guy they’d been opting to play instead of Figgins in occasional games against left-handed pitchers.
Just curious, if that first inning flyball Wells hit on Tuesday had traveled two more feet for a grand slam, would he have stayed in the majors?
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said prior to that game that he’d like to see Wells do a better job of hitting left-handed pitching. Given the .233 batting average Wells had versus southpaws at the time, it was a fair statement. What wasn’t so fair was the lack of context in noting that Wells had barely played to that point. How’s he supposed to hit anybody if he’s only getting into one game per week?
In the end, that last point by me is probably the excuse the M’s will use to justify demoting Wells. That he wasn’t playing enough. That it was hurting his development. That’s a bunch of poppycock. I’m all for young players earning their playing time and being forced to make do with the scraps they get, but I can’t shake the feeling that this decision had nothing to do with baseball.
That it has everything to do with just under $16 million owed to Figgins.
And this is why fans get confused and eagle-eyed media members get confused as well when teams state that it is about youth and rebuilding. Because for the 2012 Mariners, it isn’t so much about that as it is shedding the contracts of pricey players and then figuring out when they’re going to seriously start trying to contend again.
If the whole rebuilding thing goes well for a couple of guys…hey, man, bonus!
But if not, this rebuilding plan stuff allows the Mariners to tread financial water, keep expenses in-line with declining attendance revenues and simply wait a few years to either sell to another owner, or gain a huge cash influx for the current owner from an updated TV deal. And in the meantime, Ichiro’s contract runs out. And the Figgins contract gets resolved. Then, the Franklin Gutierrez deal (which the M’s no doubt regret) goes by the wayside as well after 2013. Last year, it was about getting Milton Bradley and Jack Wilson off the books.
All about the Benjamins, as Puff Daddy once sang.
And right now, this Figgins stuff trumps player development.
The “plan” seems to be to wait for the trade deadline, let the contract dwindle a little more and then see whether somebody gets hurt and a team becomes desperate enough to fork a few seven-figure bills Seattle’s way to eat a small percentage of the contract.
I don’t like it. You don’t like it. I doubt Zduriencik truly likes it (even if eating the deal right now will cost him big political points upstairs). And I guarantee you Figgins doesn’t like it.
Figgins wants to play. The Mariners won’t play him. And they won’t let him go.
And so, the biggest mistake of Zduriencik’s tenure with Seattle keeps getting magnified while others pay the price.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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