A Suggestion For Dumping Chone Figgins
Like Jeff Cirillo, Carlos Silva, and many others before him, Chone Figgins came to Seattle with some fanfare and a pretty decent sized contract… and promptly fell flat on his face. To say that he’s been bad would be the understatement of the year, and at this point, it’s hard to see Figgins having any significant role on this team going forward. The team could keep him around as a super-utility guy, but he can’t really play SS/CF, so he’d be a reserve 3B/2B/LF, which just isn’t all that valuable or all that hard to find.
So, despite being owed another $17 million in salary for 2012 and 2013, Figgins probably needs to go away this winter. The team could just release him and eat the cost of his salary, but teams are often reluctant to make that kind of maneuver and essentially admit that a move was a total failure. More often, they look for some other team’s overpriced underachiever and try to make a “change of scenery” swap, hoping both players will do better in a new location with a fresh start.
My guess is that’s exactly what the M’s will try to do with Figgins this winter, and in that vein, I’d like to offer up a suggestion on one particular team to call – the San Francisco Giants. They are the unfortunate rights-holders to one Barry Zito, who has two years left on the $126 million contract he signed as a free agent in the winter of 2006. That contract was one of the biggest disasters in baseball history, and because they misjudged his talents, the Giants are still on the hook for a whopping $46 million over the next two years (including the obvious buyout of the 2014 option). That money is essentially going to be wasted, however, as the Giants crowded rotation has pushed Zito out and Bruce Bochy wouldn’t even commit to him as a starting pitcher next year. Best case scenario for the Giants, they’d have the world’s most expensive left-handed specialist on their hands.
That’s not a good situation for anyone, and if they can convince Zito to waive his no-trade clause (which shouldn’t be that hard if he’s staring at a relief role for the next two years), shipping him to a team that would give him a chance to start would probably be best for everyone. Enter the Mariners.
Right now, the M’s have three decent Major League starting pitchers in the organization – Felix, Pineda, and Vargas. Blake Beavan doesn’t miss enough bats to be more than a replacement level placeholder, while Charlie Furbush belongs in the bullpen, where he can be used situationally to match-up against left-handed batters. Yes, there are some good arms in the farm system, but counting on Danny Hultzen or James Paxton to make the rotation out of spring training is asking too much of them, and the organization is best served by not rushing its best prospects to the majors too quickly.
Zito isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of an ace anymore, but he is a left-handed fly ball guy whose skills are fairly well suited to Safeco Field, and before this season, he’d been one of the game’s most durable pitchers. Having a guy who can soak up innings at the back of the rotation, even if they aren’t the highest quality innings around, has some usefulness for a team with as little high level pitching depth as the Mariners.
If nothing else, the M’s have the ability to find out if Zito is finished as a Major League starter or not. They could give him 10-15 starts next year to see if he’s got anything left, and if not, replace him come summertime with a guy like Paxton or Hultzen. If he manages a career rejuvenation, you might even be able to move him at the trading deadline and get the buying team to pick up some of the salary the Mariners are on the hook for, thus defraying some of the cost of the original Figgins signing.
There’s basically no chance that Figgins undergoes that kind of career revitalization in Seattle. It’s unclear how he’d even manage to get on the field regularly enough to get his career going again. However, the M’s would have a use for a veteran back-end lefty who could fill a rotation spot for the first few months of 2012 at the least.
For a National League team like the Giants, Figgins’s versatility would be more significant, and they have enough question marks on the position player side of things to give him a look at various spots on the field. At the least, he’d provide more value to their team than keeping Zito around in a relief role would.
With the $29 million difference in salaries over the next two years, the Giants would have to eat a lot of cash to make an even one-for-one swap, but they’re not going to be able to move Zito without picking up nearly all of the money he’s due anyway. At least in a Figgins for Zito swap, both teams can give themselves a chance to salvage something from a free agent signing gone wrong.