Should The Mariners Trade Chone Figgins?
A few weeks ago, we learned that the Braves and Mariners had a discussion about Chone Figgins before the July 31st trade deadline. The Braves, in search of a leadoff hitter and a guy who could play multiple positions for them, saw Figgins as the kind of guy they could use and get on the cheap, since he’d been a bust in Seattle so far. The Mariners reportedly rebuffed Atlanta’s advances, and the talks didn’t go anywhere.
Well, with today’s news that Chipper Jones has a torn ACL ans is done for 2010, you have to imagine that Frank Wren will at least call Jack Z to broach the subject again. With three years and $26 million left on his deal from 2011 to 2013, it is almost certain that Figgins would clear waivers and could be traded if the Mariners were so inclined. Given that he’s been on fire since August began, and the Braves are now a bit more in need of his services, you’d have to imagine the offer would be even better than it was a few weeks ago. So, that raises the question – should the M’s consider dealing Figgins if the Braves are interested, and if so, what should the asking price be?
Let’s just start with the facts. Figgins is set to make $9 million in each of the next two years, $8 million in the final guaranteed year of the deal, and then there’s a vesting option for 2014 that becomes guaranteed if he gets 600 plate appearances the year prior. This is not an outrageous salary by any means – he’s essentially getting paid like a league average player. However, if you were Jack Zduriencik, looking at the current roster and where the team was in relation to the AL West heading into next year, is that a contract you would offer Figgins as a free agent this winter?
I think the answer has to be no. For a contender, there’s a decent chance that Figgins is worth that much money. The marginal value of a win that pushes you from out of the playoffs into October baseball is huge. For a team like the Braves, who are fighting with the Phillies for one playoff spot, the opportunity to make an upgrade, even if its not a huge one, has a lot of value. For the Mariners, who have no chance of contending this year and probably a longshot at best chance next year, the wins that Figgins will add don’t have a lot of value.
Realistically, the Mariners are probably still going to be breaking in Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, Justin Smoak, and Adam Moore next year. It isn’t realistic to expect them to hit the ground running and carry this team to a 90 win season, but it’s also not prudent to block their devleopment by bringing in more proven MLB players. The 2011 Mariners are going to be a young team, and barring some huge breakout years from a couple of those guys, they’re probably not going to be able to keep up with Texas.
So, even if Figgins returns to previous form and is a +3 win player next year, those wins probably won’t put the Mariners over the top. By the time this team may be ready to be a legitimate contender in 2012, Figgins will be 34. Do you want to count on him still being an above average player in a few years? More importantly, are you willing to give up a significant chunk of the payroll now in order to find out?
Beyond just the value of the wins added, there’s a question of the natural fit for Figgins here in Seattle. The core of this team’s offense going forward is Ichiro, Gutierrez, Saunders, Smoak, and Ackley – three left-handed bats, a switch-hitter who struggles against lefties, and a right-hander who is in the line-up for his defense. If you keep Figgins, the only open positions where you could potentially get some legitimate offense from a right-handed hitter are SS, C, and DH. You can essentially eliminate the first two spots because guys who play those positions and can hit just aren’t available, so that leaves just DH for the M’s to balance out the line-up and give them someone who can provide some offense against southpaws.
Of course, as we’ve seen, Safeco isn’t a great place for right-handed sluggers, so you don’t really want the Mariners to throw a lot of money at a bat-only guy who hits from that side. In reality, the M’s probably should be looking to fill third base with a young, right-handed (or switch-hitting) third baseman with some power. That way, they could use the DH on a big slugging lefty who can take advantage of Safeco and provide some thump while also still having the kind of hitter in the line-up that doesn’t let teams just mow through the batting order every time they toss a left-hander out there.
If you keep Figgins, there’s no room for that kind of bat. As we’ve seen every time the M’s face a lefty lately, it’s a problem. You just won’t be able to generate much offense against LHPs with some combination of Figgins, Gutierrez, Smoak, Moore, and shortstop du jour as the right-handed bats in the line-up. The core of this team is missing a guy liike Adrian Beltre, who wasn’t just a good glove at third, but could also hit a good southpaw when they took the hill.
I won’t go so far as to say that signing Figgins was a mistake. The move made sense at the time, given the Mariners needs and the idea that they could make a run at the division title this year. However, circumstances have changed, and Figgins is no longer a great fit this team’s future. As they forge ahead with some young talent that probably needs another year of maturation, the aging veteran with a decent sized contract makes more sense for a team in win now mode than a team building for the future.
If the Braves are willing to take Figgins’ contract, the M’s should let them have him, then reallocate that money and position on a player who better fits what the team is now trying to do. Given the financial situation of most teams in baseball, the deal probably wouldn’t be that easy – the Braves would probably want the M’s to take some money back in order to stay under budget. That may end up being the sticking point.
The only two guys under contract for 2011 that the Braves would be willing to part with are Kenshin Kawakami and Nate McLouth. Given that the M’s are basically set in the outfield, McLouth won’t interest them at all, especially at $6.5 million for next year. Kawakami, though, is a bit more interesting. A starting pitcher who has been displaced by the Braves pitching depth, he’s a lot better than his W/L record would indicate – in two years in the big leagues, he’s posted a 4.57 xFIP, basically making him a league average starting pitcher. He’d take a bit of a hit coming to the AL, but he’d also pick up some value by coming to Safeco Field and pitching in front of the M’s defense.
At $6.7 million for next year, he’s a bit pricey for what he is, but not absurdly so. He could serve as an innings sponge for a team that could use one, helping fill a hole in the rotation that doesn’t have a natural answer for 2011. Given his pitcher type and the environment, there’s a decent chance that he could even become an asset for the organization, a guy they could move next summer as a low cost starting pitcher who had rejuvenated his career in a more friendly environment.
Would I rather pay Kawakami $6.7 million for one year or pay Figgins $26 million for three years? The former, and given the Braves current situation, you might be able to do even better than that. Whether its getting them to kick in some of the money owed to Kawakami for next year or kicking in a mid-level prospect in order to make the deal happen, this is the kind of move that the Mariners should be willing to make.
The Braves could use Figgins more than the Mariners, who should be focusing on future wins and building out their young core more than maximizing their current product. Getting out from under the rest of his deal while bringing in a potentially useful pitcher for 2011 makes too much sense to pass up. This is something that I hope Jack Z seriously explores. Signing Figgins made sense at the time – trading him now makes even more sense.