It is safe to say things aren’t so sunny in the Pacific Northwest at this time of year. The Mariners outlook for 2012, well, it remains consistent with the local climate.
The Mariners made a huge splash for the future when they traded for Jesus Montero but the offense remains one of the worst in baseball. Last season, international deity Ichiro! turned in the worst season of his professional career. Now 38, it seems the best days for the slap-hitting singularity are behind him. The team no longer wants Ichiro leading off, feeling his diminishing returns at the plate fail to set the table for otherworldly sluggers like Mike Carp and Kyle Seager.
The Mariners have a solution at the top of the order. Have a player who makes too many outs in the leadoff spot? Here’s a great idea: move a player who makes even more outs there. Genius!
The grand plan for the Mariners seems to be installing Chone Figgins as the everyday leadoff man. Chone Figgins sees more pitches than Ichiro! and that is about the nicest thing one can say about him. After posting around 13 WAR in his final three seasons in Anaheim, Figgins magically turned into one of the worst players in baseball after signing with the Mariners.
Last season, Figgins lost his job and got hurt, putting up the worst on base percentage in baseball for hitters with 300 plate appearances. Worse, even, than Vernon Wells! His .214 wOBA – also worst in baseball. He is certifiably awful.
So bad is Figgins that the Mariners seriously entertained thoughts of releasing the 33 year-old, eating nearly $20 million of salary in the process. That’s a lot of money, as Geoff Baker astutely points out. A seven-figure haircut is the kind of thing that costs a GM his job.
The Mariners are determined to extract some value of Chone Figgins, which is well within their rights. Whether he is a sunk cost or a toxic asset, the Mariners will give him every opportunity to earn $9 million dollars this year and next on the field, rather than sitting at home on his couch.
Most smart people will tell you batting order is incredibly overrated. In doing so, they are both right and annoying. The ultimate impact over the course of a season is very slight, as research shows. Which makes the decision to move Ichiro! out of the leadoff spot so asinine in the first place.
Why has, as Your Boy Baker notes, moving Ichiro! down the order has been in the cards for a while? Do the Mariners think moving one of the greatest players in franchise history out of the leadoff spot is some sort of PR win? There is a growing resentment among some Mariners fans towards Ichiro!, a feeling that a marginal player earning such a lofty wage somehow stands between them and contention.
Are the M’s booting Ichiro! to appease those who feel he wields too much power? Do they think that, on a team without any hitters capable of doing the job better, moving Ichiro! to second or third gives them a better chance to win more games?
Money is a funny thing. The money owed to Figgins affords him more chances because he gets paid either way. Like so many players before him, Ichiro! is now subject to additional scrutiny because of the deal he signed years ago. The Mariners seem to be playing amateur sports psychologists, attempting to motivate two underachieving players by pushing buttons without any concern for the message it sends to the rest of the troops.
It is all about perception, in the end. The Mariners are so bad in so many ways that the need to massage the message for their fans while trying just about anything to motivate and/or rejuvenate two players drawing nearly $30 million from the team coffers combined.
And for what? To protect Dustin Ackley from the pressures of leading off? To see if the team can’t get over the 600 runs scored hump? Deck chairs, my friends. Deck chairs. Unless this is a subtle way of telling us that, yes, Ichiro! is finally embracing his power hitting destiny. Then all the shell games and kabuki theatre are worth it.