UPDATE (1/28/2011 at 3:55 p.m.): A bunch of new updates on Figgins. According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, while it's possible there have been talks, the discussions are not far enough along to where Figgins has been asked to waive his no trade clause. To which I have two remarks. One, it's still pretty early in the game, so it's very possible Figgins won't get shipped to Oakland at all. Two, Chone Figgins has a no trade clause? Really? Who thought that was a good idea? He's a nice player, but he's not "no trade clause worthy." If only everyone were as picky with no trade clauses as Elaine Benes was with the Today Sponge...
ESPN's Buster Olney added that a third team could be involved, "perhaps the Blue Jays." The key word being perhaps, meaning he's either speculating or receiving information from a less than credible source. More to come, I'm sure.
Original Post (1/28/2011 at 11:19 a.m.): After putting up a tremendous 2009 campaign with the Angels, third baseman Chone Figgins entered the free agent market as one of the most highly sought after players. While Figgins was not without his warts (over 30 and lacking power of any kind), there was still plenty to like about him. As a leadoff man, he exhibited the two most highly sought after qualities: the ability to steal bases (42) and the ability to draw walks (101). When you add those skills to his impressive defensive display at third base (16.6 UZR, 22.2 TZ, 31 DRS), it's not hard to see why the Mariners were so excited to sign him to a four year deal worth $36M.
Entering Spring Training, the Mariners came up with a rather unconventional idea. They decided to move the defensively challenged Jose Lopez from second to third, while moving Figgins, a Fielding Bible quality third baseman, over to second. At first glance, it seemed crazy, but it was not without logic. By moving Lopez to a position that was a little less physically demanding, the Mariners hoped to limit his defensive liability. Figgins, on the other hand, had shown some level of proficiency playing second earlier in his career, albeit in small doses. The Mariners assumed that since Figgins was such a strong third baseman, he should continue to be average to above average at second base. As it turned out, they were right on Lopez (8.1 UZR), but very wrong on Figgins (-12.3 UZR). Furthermore, as a possible unintended consequence*, both players struggled offensively throughout the season with Lopez posting a putrid .268 wOBA (-26.6 wRAA) and Figgins posting a .302 wOBA (-10.9 wRAA).
* I say possible unintended consequence because there's no proof that the position move had any affect on both player's offensive outputs. It's seems logical though. Still, that kind of logic falls under the category of conventional wisdom, so a big part of me thinks that I'm stupid for even considering the correlation. If anyone has seen any studies on whether or not the two factors correlate, please send it my way. I'd be curious to read it.
Now it appears that the Mariners could be done with the Figgins experiment, and are looking to move him and the $26M remaining on his contract. This makes a lot of sense. As non-contenders, its smart for them to shed unnecessary payroll. This is especially true if that player isn't expected to help the team when they're ready to contend. The Mariners are still three or four years away from contending, so Figgins fits that description. Plus, they're top prospect, Dustin Ackley (number seven on Law's top prospect list), is a second baseman. Based on several reports I've read, he should be ready to be promoted to the big club by mid-season. As such, it makes more sense to move Figgins now.
According to Joe Stiglich of the Contra Costa Times, the A's might be interested in trading for the former All-Star.
"Despite the A's busy offseason, indications are that they might not be done shaping the roster. A source with knowledge of the situation said the A's are trying to trade for Seattle infielder Chone Figgins, and that current A's third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and perhaps a pitcher could be shipped to the Mariners in return.
The A's pursued free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre this winter, and they claimed Edwin Encarnacion off waivers but didn't retain him. So clearly, they're not completely sold on Kouzmanoff."Yes, my hero, Billy Beane, has been quite the busy man this offseason. He's rebuilt his outfield through the trades for David DeJesus and Josh Willingham, and his bullpen through the Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour signings. Plus, if Scott Boras had returned any of Beane's calls, it's possible they could have landed Adrian Beltre as well.
Despite Figgins' lost season, he's still a good bet to bounce back in 2011. He may not draw 100 walks again, but he should get on base more than enough to justify having in the leadoff spot every day. Figgins would likely replace Kouzmanoff at third base, which should help restore some of his defensive value. After a near replacement level season in 2010, I expect to see a 2-3 win season out of him in 2011.
As the above report states, the Mariners could possibly accept Kouzmanoff (along with another pitcher) in return for Figgins. He seems to fit the mold of players that the Mariner front office likes: excellent defense and poor on-base abilities. Kouzmanoff does have 30 homer power potential, but he's never had the opportunity to hit in a ballpark that showcased his abilities. Playing half of his games in the land where right-handed power hitters go to die (also known as Safeco Field) will not help his situation. Still, being with Seattle will likely be a better situation than another season in Oakland. Based on their aborted attempts with Adrian Beltre and Edwin Encarnacion,* it didn't appear the A's had much faith in Kouzmanoff. Now, with the Figgins rumors flying, it's pretty clear they're "not sold on him," as Stiglish stated.
I know everyone has anointed the Rangers as the AL West champions for 2011, but we might want to hold off that coronation for just a little while longer. If the A's can pull off a deal for Figgins, all bets are off. That division will become a clear two team race.