Sailing To Sicily
For I think a couple years, now, I’ve wanted to use that as the headline of a post. I stumbled across it while reading a book by Simon Winchester, and immediately it grabbed my brain and buried itself within. It struck me as just the perfect, profound, concise potential headline. The only problem is that, as an expression, “sailing to Sicily” is antiquated and used to be a euphemism for going to Hell, and that’s not something I write about a lot when tackling a baseball story. So I’m just forcing it here, along with a distracting introduction, because I want to stop thinking about how to use this, and because I am in one sense going to talk about a departure. It doesn’t entirely not work.
Some months ago, the Seattle Mariners released Chone Figgins. Some weeks ago, the Miami Marlins signed Chone Figgins to a minor-league contract. Some hours ago, the Miami Marlins released Chone Figgins.
#Marlins release Chone Figgins. 42 players remain in camp
— clarkspencer (@clarkspencer) March 20, 2013
You might have stopped thinking about Figgins. At least, you might have tried to stop thinking about Figgins, but I know we’re all interested, here, in the way we were all interested in Carlos Silva following his exit. When you have a player so unproductive and so unpleasant, there is displayed among the fan base a certain pettiness, where no one wants the player to succeed in greener pastures. I know it bothered me when Jeff Cirillo rebounded, and I know it similarly bothered me when Scott Spiezio rebounded and took the extra step of talking trash about the Mariners. Chone Figgins hasn’t yet followed the Cirillo or Spiezio path. Chone Figgins, once again, doesn’t have a job.
And he doesn’t have a job with the Miami Marlins. Consider all of the circumstances:
- the Mariners didn’t want Figgins anymore
- for months, nobody pursued Figgins, despite the Mariners owing all the salary
- Figgins eventually ended up on the Marlins, who are presently the league’s saddest team
- Figgins at no point had the inside track on a major-league job
- Figgins got himself released in the middle of March
- …so that the Marlins could plan on giving a backup job to Nick Green
It would be one thing if Figgins were dropped because the Marlins preferred a young prospect. Nick Green is 34, and he’s got a lifetime 70 OPS+. The Marlins like him as a backup because he’s the most experienced shortstop. Figgins isn’t a particularly experienced shortstop, so Figgins was always on the outside of the competition looking in. Now he’s looking in from even further away, maybe from behind a chain-link fence. You know, with the rest of the people paying attention to the Marlins who aren’t actually employed by the Marlins.
You have to figure this is the end of the line. This post was nearly titled “End Of The Line”. The Marlins were on the hook for the league minimum, and they don’t want Figgins around. No one else jumped at the chance to sign him as a free agent. I’m not going to declare outright that Chone Figgins’ career is over, because I don’t know what the market looks like and players will always get injured, but Figgins has never been further away from his career peak. He’s never been in a situation this desperate. The one team willing to take a chance on Figgins is baseball’s biggest embarrassment. Even they were like “actually, no”.
So, to review, keeping in mind that Figgins is 35:
- 2009: All-Star
- 2010: everyday player, mediocre
- 2011: non-everyday player, awful
- 2012: benched, awful
- 2013: released by the Marlins
Ask Chone Figgins and he’ll tell you there’s plenty left. He was never lacking for confidence with Seattle, at least outwardly, blaming his problems on an unfamiliar lineup spot, and then on infrequent playing time. Here’s a recent article by Steven Wine on Figgins trying to make the Marlins’ roster:
”I’d go three weeks to a month not playing, going from getting 700 at-bats every year,” he says. ”It’s tough. You sign a four-year deal, and the second year of the deal you’re sitting on the bench. That’s hard to swallow. But I stayed positive as much as I could. This is where it has taken me.”
He’s off to a slow start in spring training, going 0 for 9 in his first four games. But he’s confident he can still hit, and figures his versatility afield coming off the bench makes him especially valuable to a National League team.
It’s easy, I think, to poke fun at Figgins having so much confidence, given that he sucks now. It just reads funny. It reads like he’s delusional, like he doesn’t see what literally everybody else sees. Maybe that’s exactly the case, but consider what this might be like from Figgins’ perspective.
Figgins is a little guy, and coming up he was never high on any prospect lists. At his best, he was a guy who did everything with what he had at his disposal. Figgins, you can think of as a player who more or less reached his ceiling. Not unlike David Eckstein, Figgins made the most of a little, succeeding without a superior or exceptional skillset. He didn’t have power, or noteworthy bat control. He didn’t wow in the field, and though he could run, lots of guys can run. Figgins was always scraping by, succeeding despite the odds.
How much do you think things change in just a matter of years? When you’re 40, you know you don’t feel like you’re 20 anymore. But Figgins is 35, and when he was 31, he was one of baseball’s most valuable and versatile players. How different do you think Figgins feels today, in terms of his baseball skills? Do you think he feels like he’s fallen off a cliff, or do you think he feels like he’s basically the same guy? His self-confidence is probably telling. When Chone Figgins steps back, he doesn’t understand why things should be different from how they were, because he doesn’t feel like he’s really changed.
And, truthfully, if Figgins was at 100% in 2009, then today he might be at, I don’t know, 90%, or 95%. I don’t know what this scale is. His skills haven’t eroded. We’re talking about declines of just a few percentage points — hardly even perceptible, from Figgins’ perspective. His bat speed won’t be much different. His eye won’t be much different. His defense won’t be much different, and Figgins can still motor. The difference between Chone Figgins now and Chone Figgins then is slight.
But that’s also the difference between being a productive major leaguer and being an ex-major leaguer. Especially for a guy like Figgins, who had to max everything out to succeed. You usually can’t just rest on your laurels and stick in the bigs as a regular, unless you’re phenomenally talented. It takes a ton of work and a ton of skill, and should that skill deteriorate, you’ll face longer and longer odds. Figgins right now is out of a job without feeling like he deserves to be, because that very slight physical decline is the very most meaningful thing.
A lot of players feel like they can still play, even after they’re finished being good players. This is because they hardly feel any different, and that’s all the players can know. A pitcher who’s good at 90 miles per hour might struggle at 87. At 87, he’ll feel like he’s not far off, like he still has something to offer. Figgins, perhaps, has declined from a 90 to an 87. At 87, Figgins is dreadful, even though we’re talking about a difference of three ticks.
I don’t know if this is truly the end for Chone Figgins. Hell, he could even bounce back somewhere and produce, in the way that Cirillo and Spiezio did after I gave up on them. Maybe the Marlins didn’t see what Figgins can do. Or maybe Figgins can’t see what Figgins can do. Perhaps more accurately, maybe Figgins can’t see what Figgins can’t do. Sometimes it’s the market that’s wrong. Only some times.
(Hi, you guys. USSM is what inspired me to blog a decade ago. So this is neat for me. Hopefully it will be neat for you.)