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November 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Mariners could end the Chone Figgins era today

Just about three years ago, the Mariners welcomed Chone Figgins to the fold on the eve of the 2009 baseball winter meetings. A formal press conference was held right after the winter meetings in which he began a four-year, $36 million contract.
Now, three years in, the Mariners have a chance today to end one of the more depressing parts of their franchise history.

Figgins has not delivered what was expected of him in Seattle and the situation was made worse than it had to be in 2010 when he openly confronted manager Don Wakamatsu in the dugout with cameras rolling.

The Mariners have had opportunities to unload Figgins since midway through that season, but opted to hold on to him in order to try to recoup some value from the investment.

Major League teams have to set their 40-man rosters by 9 p.m. PT tonight, ahead of the upcoming Rule 5 draft. And freeing up a roster spot by allowing Figgins to try to resume his career elsewhere seems the best course of action at this point.

Photo Credit: AP

When Figgins arrived here, fresh off a .395 OBP season with the Los Angeles Angels, it was hoped he and Ichiro would form a 1-2 punch at the top of the batting order. The idea was that a team short on home run slugging power could get a bunch of guys on base and see them driven in by singles and doubles.

That never worked out.

Instead, some of the guys who were supposed to hit the singles and doubles — Casey Kotchman for one — never wound up doing that. Figgins also struggled in the first half of that 2010 season.

But even when Figgins and Ichiro were both producing above average OBP in the second half of that year, the Mariners were never able to score the runs they’d envisioned. Lacking any serious mid-order hitters, the team’s remaining bats seemed like they were trying to do too much every time they stepped to the plate.

By June, the Mariners were so desperate for anything resembling power that they traded to get Russell Branyan back. Branyan was the one that got between Figgins and Wakamatsu during that infamous dugout blowup in July.

Since that time, Figgins has been a model player under new manager Eric Wedge. Figgins has attempted to mentor some of the younger players while his own playing time has been reduced literally to nothing.

In some ways, the Figgins-Wedge combo was never going to work out. Wedge preaches a style of hitting that is totally contrary to what made Figgins the player he was in the first place.

Figgins used to go to the plate with a patient, pitch-taking approach designed to get him on base any way possible –many times via the walk. To say Figgins goes to the plate looking to draw walks would not be overstating things.

Wedge for two years has drilled the Mariners on a completely opposite approach. He wants them going up there looking for a pitch to hit — whether it’s the first pitch or the ninth pitch of any at-bat. The walks that Wedge wants to see players draw are supposed to come as a result of players not getting pitches to hit.

So, two very different approaches.

Wedge’s approach is actually the one that dominated baseball through much of its history and is starting to make a comeback these days following a decade-long hibernation throughout much of baseball. It was only after the success of Billy Beane’s Oakland teams early last decade and the 2003 publication of the Moneyball book that the strategy of deliberately working walks took on a life of its own. All of a sudden, Kevin Youkilis was “The Greek God of Walks” and teams having a walk-rate of 10 percent throughout their minor league system became a sought-after goal on a mass scale.

Anyhow, that’s where we’re at.

Bottom line: Figgins had his shot at getting on base via walks, hits, or even getting hit by pitches this April and could not do it at a good enough level.

In the end, many players sometimes need more than a month to prove themselves and Figgins probably needed longer.
But in the team’s defense, in the end, Figgins was fortunate to still be given that leadoff chance at the start of 2012. Any other player with a lesser contract might have been gone midway through 2010. Or, at the very least, after 2011.
So, he really was living on borrowed time and after April, that time ran out.

But now, it’s on the Mariners. Keeping Figgins in an enforced purgatory of sorts isn’t doing anyone much good. It’s keeping Figgins from trying to resurrect his career and it’s tying up a roster spot for an M’s team that rarely uses him.
Yeah, swallowing $8.5 million is a lot of money.

But keeping Figgins and pretending that money is being put to any decent use is just kidding yourself at this stage.
It’s time for both sides to move on.

For Figgins to attempt to salvage his reputation and for the Mariners to try to do better with their next big free agent signing — they are still allowed to try again, believe it or not — than they did with this one.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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