Sailing To Sicily

Jeff Sullivan · March 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

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.)


44 Responses to “Sailing To Sicily”

  1. Scruffy Lefty on March 20th, 2013 4:16 pm

    I think its pretty neat.

  2. dewey on March 20th, 2013 4:17 pm

    nice to hear from you so soon. Can’t wait to read more.

  3. dewey on March 20th, 2013 4:17 pm

    nice to hear from you so soon. Can’t wait to read more.

  4. californiamariner on March 20th, 2013 4:22 pm

    Awesome to have Jeff on here!

  5. PackBob on March 20th, 2013 4:25 pm

    The worst part about Chone failing as a Mariner is that it would have been really interesting to see how an all-star Figgens with Ichiro would have fared as a lead-off combo.

    It seems too for at least some guys who have lost a little but enough to not be a ML player any more, that there is some small adjustment they actually could make that, if they could only find it, it would be enough to get them back.

    Cool that you get to return to your inspiration/roots, Jeff.

  6. patnmic on March 20th, 2013 4:59 pm

    I’m going to tell the next person I see to sail to Sicily. Thanks Jeff!

    Sail to Sicily Carlos Silva et al.

  7. bat guano on March 20th, 2013 5:02 pm

    It’s nice to have you back on the Mariner beat Jeff. Too bad you couldn’t use the “Sailing to Sicily” title for Figgy a year ago (or more), though it would’ve perhaps been even more appropriate for the departures of Carlos Silva or Milton Bradley. Better late than never I guess.

  8. Thievery on March 20th, 2013 6:02 pm

    Jeff Sullivan on U.S.S. Mariner. *swoons*

    Kinda like seeing Mike Trout in a Mariners uniform…

  9. Westside guy on March 20th, 2013 6:10 pm

    I’m really happy you didn’t take a year long sabbatical from Mariner-dom, Jeff! I’m looking forward to reading whatever you feel like sharing here, however frequently you choose to do so.

    I was as fed up with Figgins as everyone else; but for some reason this news makes me a trifle sad. When the Mariners signed him I expected great things – both from him, and perhaps from the team as well. I guess this news is just reminding me how the last several years have felt, and the transition I had to make mentally from hope to relative hopelessness (baseball-wise).

  10. msb on March 20th, 2013 6:15 pm

    So, Chone is off to visit Mount Etna?

  11. Paul B on March 20th, 2013 7:11 pm

    We’ve needed more volcanoes around here!

  12. Tim B. on March 20th, 2013 7:18 pm

    Jeff! As a Mariners fan, I’m proud of what you and Dave have accomplished in your respective careers.

  13. adroit on March 20th, 2013 7:21 pm

    nice to hear from you so soon. Can’t wait to read more.

  14. adroit on March 20th, 2013 7:24 pm

    This is kind of weird, though. Is DMZ back too?

    I guess LL is kind of like Menudo. The names keep changing but it’s still Menudo. Meanwhile Ricky Martin has to go fend forhimself and build a wildly successful solo career… on the blog that originally inspired him. Or something.

  15. Hoover on March 20th, 2013 7:24 pm

    Neat for us. Thank you!

  16. bookbook on March 20th, 2013 7:46 pm

    Great to hear from you. And ironically appropriate that what I think of as your first post-M’s-burnout post should be on Figgins, the very symbol of the Zdurienick Mariner regime.

  17. Carson on March 20th, 2013 7:53 pm

    This is so very weird, but cool. It’s kinda like when WCW came along and started kicking the all-mighty and previously untouchable WWF’s ass in the ratings. But then some crazy things happened and WCW ended up for sale and then under Vince McMahon’s control.

    May this unification end better than that one.

  18. stevemotivateir on March 20th, 2013 8:08 pm

    So glad Jeff was smart enough to come here, ditch LL. What a horrible site that was.

    I just hope Mark or Jay wasn’t killed off to make room.

  19. Westside guy on March 20th, 2013 8:16 pm

    Hopefully Jeff is familiar enough with Steve to know that he’s goofing around. πŸ˜€

    Or maybe all that tropical heat down in Sao Paulo has finally poached his brain.

  20. stevemotivateir on March 20th, 2013 8:31 pm

    The heat disappeared a few days ago, Westy. Hopefully it returns soon. But way to blow a valid attempt at hazing!

  21. Section329 on March 20th, 2013 8:49 pm

    Yeah, Jeff! Great to hear from you. Figgins drove me nuts. I dreaded every time he came to the plate. Then I would get mad at the M’s for keeping him so long. Hard to feel sorry for a guy making $8 million (from us!) for doing nothing this year.

  22. DawgDays on March 20th, 2013 9:52 pm

    I read the first two lines and thought, “Who is this, Sullivan?”

  23. jasonmcgillie on March 20th, 2013 10:02 pm

    welcome (back?) Jeff.

  24. dnc on March 20th, 2013 10:26 pm

    Welcome Matthew!!!

    LL byline (poor?) humor aside, very nice to see you here so soon. Don’t be a stranger.

  25. hailcom on March 20th, 2013 11:19 pm

    Funny, interesting, thoughtful, self-deprecating, irreverent, philosophical. All the things I’ve come to expect from a Jeff Sullivan piece. More, I want more! But I’ll take what I can get…

  26. vertigoman on March 20th, 2013 11:26 pm

    This is both pretty cool an pretty shitty.
    I would always satisfy my “other source” need by going to LoL.
    Now I’m forced to admit that they are and probably always were, one in the same.
    This does work out perfectly for my now defunct unlimited data plan.
    Once again, it’s all about bandwidth, I blame you William Gibson and i thank you Jeff.

  27. johndango on March 21st, 2013 12:38 am

    I’d give you my kidney if you needed it. Glad to see you somewhere ‘Mariners-esque’

  28. vj on March 21st, 2013 2:37 am

    1. Welcome to USSM, where you now can share a brain with Dave on the same site.
    2. From experience I can confirm that 40 feels quite different from 20 but 35 hardly different from 31.
    3. Like you, I can’t look inside Figgins’ head to know how he really feels but in public statements, he has to sound confident or optimistic as otherwise, people would ask why he doesn’t give up. I suspect he feels badly right now and feel somewhat sorry for him. But I think in a few years, he will realize that unlike a few others he made the most of his talent and can be proud of his career accomplishments. Plus, he made something like 40 Million US-$ in his career. That’s pretty good for a little guy who never was high on any prospect list.
    4. One of my travel plans involves an ancient sailboat, volcanoes and the southern mediteranean see:

  29. gag harbor on March 21st, 2013 3:46 am

    Thanks Jeff, having your posts to read here are really a nice bonus! Hope your inspiration from USSM continues for years to come!

  30. maqman on March 21st, 2013 4:04 am

    Admiral Nelson sailed to Sicily after sinking Napoleon’s fleet in the Battle of the Nile. There he met Lady Emma Hamilton, who was the wife of the British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. She became his mistress and he ditched his wife. After that he found every excuse possibly to sail back to Sicily and Lady Emma. When he was killed while beating the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he saved England’s ass. The government though ignored his dying wish that they provide for his significant other and she died in poverty. They were pissed at all his sailing to Sicily among other things.

  31. henryv on March 21st, 2013 8:51 am

    Very excited to have Jeff at USSM!

    And please, for the love of God, GIFS?

  32. Kazinski on March 21st, 2013 10:01 am

    At least Figgins has one thing going for him, he still has 8.5m coming to him, and he knows he has to make this last paycheck last.

    The Mariners front office must be overjoyed. Don’t forget that Figgins’ contract had a 9m vesting option for 2014. If Figgins had somehow got 600AB this year then we would have been on the hook for another 9M.

  33. Paul B on March 21st, 2013 10:12 am

    Part of it probably is the necessary ego to get to the Bigs in the first place.

    Lots of players hang on too long (Steve Carlton and of course Griffey are too that come to mind) because they really believe they can still play and are just having a run of bad luck.

    As to ego, I remember Ichiro being astounded by Bret Boone, never having met anyone like that before.

  34. Westside guy on March 21st, 2013 10:24 am

    Greg Johns explained the vesting situation last year. Once Figgins was cut loose, that vesting option basically disappeared – the Mariners would not have been on the hook for an additional year no matter what.

    Up until then I had wondered the same thing.

  35. MrZDevotee on March 21st, 2013 10:59 am

    I’m a bit daft, and thick in the skull, but I think from Maqman’s post above the ominous underlying message is that Jeff is sleeping with Dave’s wife and is soon to be killed because of his large expense account at USSMariner.

    Let’s enjoy him while he lasts.

    Keep sailing, Jeff!

    And Bon Voyage, Chone!

  36. CrashDavidson on March 21st, 2013 11:18 am

    It was SO nice to see Jeff’s name up there! I am smiling so much right now.

    Here’s hoping we get to hear from you often.

  37. Thingray on March 21st, 2013 11:35 am

    Age is a funny thing. At 39 I feel physically like I can do everything I could do at 29 (if not more). However, I also feel like I will pay twice the price the next day.

    But it’s not the skills eroding as I get older that bothers me, it’s the darn nose hair.

  38. MrZDevotee on March 21st, 2013 12:25 pm

    I have a 5 year old who is constantly reminding me EXACTLY how little I can still do in my 40’s. *laugh*

    And yeah– nose hairs. (sigh) The 2 fasting things growing on our property are the previous owner’s bamboo plants, and my nose hair.

  39. Westside guy on March 21st, 2013 12:28 pm

    You young whippersnappers! 40 isn’t old!

    I’m 52 and I don’t feel old. But my back sometimes hurts a bit more, and I notice I’m a little stiffer when I kneel down and straighten up, and my eyesight… oh man I am old.

  40. Thingray on March 21st, 2013 12:59 pm

    I didn’t say I was old! But my dreams of being a professional athlete are dead at this point, unless it’s some sort of “40 and over” pro league. I used to dream that my speed could somehow be enough to make the pros if I really put my mind to it, but at 39 you ain’t makin’ any prospect lists, especially after you’ve lost a step.

  41. Westside guy on March 21st, 2013 1:47 pm

    In other news… Wedge is putting Jason Bay into center field tonight.

  42. Mid80sRighty on March 21st, 2013 3:36 pm

    Wow, is Ibanez in left and Morse in right? Might as well go for the trifecta…

  43. MrZDevotee on March 21st, 2013 5:48 pm

    And Peguero is playing shortstop– oh wait, that’s tonight’s Beer League lineup.

  44. Evan on March 22nd, 2013 10:20 am

    I must applaud you for reading Simon Winchester.

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