Chone Figgins: The Seattle Mariners Trilemma
Each path toward a Figgins solution is bitter, but each path comes with hope for improvement. This is a triage situation that no front office wants to encounter. It is also a test I hope the Mariners front office can pass.
While it pains me that the Mariners have the problem embodied by Chone Figgins, I derive minor pleasure from writing the word "trilemma" in a headline.
Seattle Mariners Cut Chone Figgins
Cutting Chone Figgins is both immediately painful and satisfying. The Seattle Mariners would continue paying big bucks to Figgins through 2013 for zero services rendered. That money is water under the bridge. Figgins is not rendering a lot of services right now anyway.
On the surface, this looks like a terrible idea. It looks better after considering a few numbers.
The Mariners are committed to paying Figgins about $4 million for the remainder of this season and $17 million for 2012 and 2013 combined. The Mariners might expect to squeeze three wins above replacement (WAR) from Figgins during that time, including the remainder of this season.
Suppose Figgins is cut and the Mariners employ another third baseman, who for the same time span (about 2.5 seasons) supplies seven WAR for $14 million.
The comparison then is between Figgins' three WAR for $21 million and the replacement third baseman's seven WAR for $35 million. The $35 million is the Mariners' salary obligation to Figgins plus the replacement's salary. This boils down to paying an additional $14 million to get an additional four WAR over 2.5 seasons.
The thing to remember here is that a big salary hit is a foregone conclusion. The Mariners need to decide how much more money they have to spend on production from third base.
The team could promote Kyle Seager too. Figgins' run production is so poor that a too-early promotion of Seager isn't likely to hurt the offense much, if at all. Seager's promotion might also satisfy impatient fans.
Taking the glass-half-full view, this strategy would spare the team and its fans a lot of pain. Figgins' woeful plate appearances would disappear. A better hitter at third might push the Mariners back into playoff contention.
The downside is that this path is very expensive. One of the two approaches discussed in the next slides is what I expect to see.
Seattle Mariners Weather the Storm
The Seattle Mariners could bide their time, hoping for a better tomorrow. Chone Figgins might improve.
Were Figgins expected to improve, this choice would be great. The chances of improvement are low, though. Figgins is now 33 years old. Players relying on speed, like Figgins, are usually in decline by this age.
Another argument for keeping Figgins demands patience. The Mariners are in no need of the improvement a strong-hitting third baseman would supply right now. The team is not likely playoff-bound this year. They should wait out the dreary Figgins years, save a few dollars otherwise spent scrambling for a quick fix and enter 2013 or 2014 loaded for bear.
This stance has a lot of potential upside and downside, all based on the range of possible performances from Figgins. I think it is also more likely to leave the front office looking like geniuses or idiots.
Seattle Mariners Trade Figgins and a Pitcher
This is the best way. The Seattle Mariners should take advantage of their pitching depth. With luck, the Mariners can find a trade partner willing to take on Figgins with a bit of his salary in order to make a deal for a Mariners pitcher.
One such deal might exchange Jason Vargas and Figgins for Colby Rasmus. Much of Figgins' salary would need to be carried by the Mariners, of course.
This trade would still leave the Mariners with a hole at third base.
I mention Rasmus because the Mariners' holes in the outfield are worrisome. If Figgins can be dealt along with Vargas or anyone in such a way to plug a gap with a big bat, the trade should be considered. The Mariners' feeble hitting might help them jettison Figgins. The multiplicity of weaknesses on offense make almost any trade for a bat beneficial.
Any way you cut it, the Mariners are stuck with an expensive third baseman. They need not be saddled with a useless third baseman.