Third Base: Chone Figgins #9
34 years old; Experience: 10 years
Ah. We have come to the most polarizing figure in recent Mariner's history since Richie Sexson. Actually, to be polarizing you have to have people that actually root for you, and since Chone Figgins is basically "he who shall not be named", let me correct myself and say we have come to the most hated figure in recent Mariner's since Richie Sexson. The backstory is probably something that everyone knows, but lets dive into it just because misery loves company, old wounds take the longest to heal, etc etc.
The Mariners were sitting all pretty with Adrian Beltre hitting the ball and playing beyond amazing defense before he decided to take his talents elsewhere. Three long years ago, the Mariners made an interesting decision on Figgins and signed him to a four-year contract worth $36 million. The interesting part of this decision was the Mariners still clearly had an Ichiro on the team, and this Ichiro hadn't quite begun to decline yet. And this Ichiro was also being paid somewhere in the realms of the upper teens (times millions) of dollars a year. So the Mariners locked in about a quarter of their payroll to have two leadoff hitters and the top of the rotation. It just seemed so crazy that it had to work!
So bear with me here, and stay flashbacked to 2010. Because in 2010, this idea seemed so crazy to work because Chone Figgins was one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. In three of his previous five years with the Angels Figgins had an .OBP higher than .390. Granted, he didn't slug worth anything, but when Figgins got on base - which he did a whole heckuva lot - Figgins would also steal and he did that a fair amount of the time. The idea of Ichiro and Figgins just hitting each other all over the base paths and stealing bases left and right was just enough to make the regular delusional Mariners fan salivate at the thought of winning with a team that hits less home-runs then their AAA counterpart.
But in 2010, it all went to shit - sort of. The Mariners completely turned Figgins' world upside down, or at least as much as you can without converting a leadoff man to a closer without his permission. The M's moved Figgins to second base and shoved him in the two hole. Not that these two things contributed to the downturn, but as most baseball players are intense creatures of habit, it is hard to think it didn't play a part. Figgins had his worst hitting year of his career. His walk rates were down, his strike out rates a bit higher, and his poor hitting coincided with the fans basically blaming the debacle of 2010 on poor Figgins' shoulders.
So then this albatross, which was making $9 million a year, came into 2011 looking a bit glum. And that is why in 2010 it only sort of went to shit for Figgins, because in 2011 it really truly went to shit. Figgins' BABIP plummeted to .215 (a whole .100 off of his career average) and through 81 games Figgins hit a pathetic .188 on his way to mysteriously injuring himself and getting shelved for the rest of the season.
Flash forward to 2012, where the damage has seemingly been already done. And while a whole lot of fans would wish for Figgins to take a ferry to an island in Puget Sound and never return again, the fact of the matter is the Mariners have a player who doesn't appear to be very good anymore and is still owed $18 million dollars. In other words, the skinny, small, position-playing version of Carlos Silva is going nowhere. So it is nice to see the Mariners trying to get something out of Figgins this year by placing him back at third base and inserting him in the leadoff position again.
There are reasons to think that Chone Figgins will bounce back in 2012. One reason is that I pray to all things holy that his rock bottom hit in 2011 - otherwise I'm not sure what atrocity those hitting numbers would look like. Another reason is that Figgins isolated batting numbers are well below his career average. Now at 34 years old, he could just be declining faster then a lot of baseball players, but Figgins has stayed relatively healthy over the course of his career. The main reason I like to think he can bounce back is the hope factor. Because at the moment, Kyle Seager doesn't look fully ready to wrestle a full time playing gig away. With Gutierrez going down with an injury, look who is possibly filling that void but Chone Figgins. The Mariners are trying to increase his value in hopes of a trade where instead of eating $9 million they will only eat $8 million. I wish no ill will towards Figgins. So here is to hoping being back in the cozy confines of the leadoff spot does wonders. Otherwise - ugh.