Chone Figgins is no longer a Mariner. Seattle designated the infielder/outfielder/pariah for assignment yesterday, eating the final $8 million on his contract. In addition to no longer being a Mariner, Chone Figgins is no longer a man – he is living, breathing cautionary tale. A beacon of woe for all teams dreaming big as they dip their collective toes into the frigid waters of free agency.
Not only does Chone Figgins now embody a waving flag of warning for the perils of free agency, he represents what can happen when a club wrongly assesses their own place in the world. Tread lightly, Orioles and A’s of the world – yours is a path travelled many times before.
The 2009 Seattle Mariners were a very pleasant surprise. After losing 100 games the previous season, the Mariners made a decent account of themselves thanks to some superlative defense and some unexpected offense from Jose Lopez and Russell Branyan. The return of Ken Griffey Junior to Seattle sprinkled the entire season with pixie dust, glossing over the third-place finish with nothing but positive vibes.
The Mariners, sensing an opportunity to compete in the AL West, went for it. They signed Figgins to a four-year, $36 million deal and, seemingly out of nowhere, traded for Cliff freaking Lee. They sent young starter Brandon Morrow packing in exchange for a late inning reliever in Brandon League, as well as trading for troubled slugger Milton Bradley and glove-only first baseman Casey Kotchman. GM manager Jack Zduriencik signed both Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez to long contract extensions.
It was an exciting time in Seattle. The team seemed to upgrade all over the diamond, staying true to their strengths while ensuring a prosperous future with ownership’s buy-in. Mariners fans were living the dream! The M’s were on their way! With speed and defense as their calling cards, it was time to once again challenge the status quo in the AL West.
The acquisition of Figgins allowed the Mariners to move Jose Lopez to third base, replacing the departed Adrian Beltre. Beltre’s offensive numbers suffered during his time in Seattle, posting just a .301 wOBA in 2009 – a contract year. With Figgins ability to get on base and Lopez’s mistake power, the Mariners figured they could replace Beltre while building on their 2009 success at the same time.
The team that outperformed its Pythagorean record by a full 10 games in 2009 tragically fell to Earth in 2010, once again losing 100 games. Their record in one-run games dropped from 35-20 (the best in baseball) to more pedestrian and humbling 21-28. Griffey struggled, napping his way into infamy and out of the spotlight, before an embarrassing exit from the club in May.
The Mariners realized they were sunk and cut bait – trading Cliff Lee to the Rangers for three prospects. All the while Chone Figgins plodded away at second base, posting the worst numbers of his career – to date.
From 2010 forward, Figgins just got worse and worse. As a Mariner he posted a .227/.302/.283 line, receiving less and less playing time as the seasons progressed. They tried him a second base, shuffled him to third and attempted using him in left field and toyed with the idea of hitting him leadoff to re-ignite his slumbering lumber. Nothing worked. Now, mercifully, his time in Seattle is over.
The Mariners are back at the starting line. Three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West, three seasons with 95 or more losses in the last five. Their minor league system boasts some great pitchers but there is still a ways to go before they make an impact at the big league level. The big league club could make bold signing and trades to improve the big league product for 2013 but the current core of the team is middling at best.
Dear Teams Trying to be 2012 Orioles: Good luck going 29-9 in one-run games!
— robneyer (@robneyer) November 21, 2012
Let the plight of the Mariners serve as a warning for the upstarts of 2012. For every Tampa Bay Rays – a team still reaping the rewards of a robust system still cycling talent to the big club – there is a Seattle, a San Diego, or an Arizona. While the big dogs snatch up the top talent, those groping for change end up overpaying for Chone Figgins or worse – if such a possibility exists.