It’s a cliche that baseball GMs enter the offseason looking to “plug holes.” Sounds easy, but identifying a team’s biggest needs and making a deal with the player best able to improve the club is no simple task.
By signing Chone Figgins, the Mariners executed that task beautifully. It remains to be seen exactly how the versatile Figgins will fit into the 2010 Seattle club, but he’ll probably bat second behind Ichiro and play either second base or third base.
Here are some stat lines for your consideration:
AVG OBP SLG 2009 SEA 2B .266 .303 .450 2009 SEA 3B .247 .294 .349 2009 SEA 2nd .224 .297 .376 2009 Chone .298 .395 .393 2010 Chone (CHONE) .268 .367 .352
The Mariners had plenty of offensive problems last year, and we’re looking at some of the most glaring. Seattle third basemen (primarily Adrian Beltre) outproduced a few other spots on the diamond, but a .643 OPS from a traditionally offense-oriented position is dreadful. No. 2 hitters did better than the collective 7 and 9 spots, but a sub-.300 OBP at the top of the order is a great way to ensure the fewest runs scored in the league.
The OPS differences in the above lines aren’t as dramatic as the OBPs. The Mariners were atrocious at getting on base last year. Apart from the fragile Nick Johnson and big-ticket free agents Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, Figgins was the best available player to remedy that weakness.
Of course, OPS and (in Figgins’ case) OBP aren’t the only measures of how badly a replacement is needed or how effective a replacement will be. The Mariners have prioritized defense, and Beltre is one of the best in the game at his position. At second, Jose Lopez gets wildly varying reviews from fans, but statistics come a bit closer to a consensus, and put him near average.
Figgins’ versatility means we don’t have a huge amount of data on him at any one position, but he has traditionally looked well above average at third base and roughly average at second. So he would probably represent a slight drop-off from Beltre in the field, while there would be no clearly predictable change from Lopez to Figgins at second. The offensive numbers, then, do end up telling much of the story.
Out-making in context
By signing Figgins, Zduriencik didn’t just plug some of his most glaring holes; he repaired some of the biggest problems in baseball.
We could argue all day about what constitutes the perfect No. 2 hitter, but for now, let’s assume most managers are operating by the traditional pattern of placing a high-OBP, low-SLG player in that spot.
The Mariners used a number of options behind Ichiro in 2009, and none of them got on base very often. Only the Royals, with their putrid .278 mark out of that lineup position, underperformed the Mariners’ .297 mark. No team got a 2-hole batting average worse than the Mariners’ .224.
Figgins is no Dustin Pedroia, but Seattle fans will enjoy a very different first-inning experience in 2010.
The average third baseman last year posted a .757 OPS, getting on base 33.5 percent of the time. Only Cardinals third-sackers got on base less often than the Mariners’ .294 rate, and only the Marlins came in under Seattle’s .643 OPS.
Once again, Figgins is hardly projected to win next year’s Silver Slugger, but if he ends up the starting third baseman, he’ll provide respectable offense at the position without sacrificing much with the glove.
Is he worth it?
Filling holes is one thing; doing so on a budget is another. I haven’t mentioned the $36 million Figgins will make over the next four years.
While Chone is on the wrong side of 30, his recent production suggests he may well be worth more than $9 million per year, and the contract “only” takes him through his age-35 season. Fully breaking down his projected value in the early stages of his decline phase is the subject for a different article, but at the very least, it appears Seattle filled these holes without seriously overpaying.
For the first major free-agent outlay of the offseason, I’m impressed. If Zduriencik can do an equally good job addressing left field (2009 slash stats: .219/.276/.333), I’ll hand him the Executive of the Year Award before the first day of spring training.