Figgins signing an excellent move for the Mariners ... for now
The dominos are starting to fall at the hot corner in what has been the first significant free-agent action on this year's hot stove. First the back-to-back National League champion Phillies inked old friend
The Figgins signing is entirely consistent with the sort of team Mariners general manager
Figgins and Beltre ranked second and third, respectively, in Ultimate Zone Rating among full-time American League third basemen in 2009 and were both in the top five in that category in 2008, Figgins' second season as the Angels third baseman after four years of valuable utility work. Of the two, Figgins is clearly the better choice for the Mariners because, as Zduriencik also seems keenly aware, Safeco Park is death to right-handed power hitters. At bat, Beltre, who doesn't draw many walks or hit for much average, offers little more than right-handed power. Figgins is a switch-hitter who not only hits for a bit of average (.291 career), but led the American league in walks in 2009 with 101, none of them intentional.
On its face, and certainly for 2010, the Figgins signing is an excellent one for the Mariners, but it is not without its red flags. To begin with, Figgins' league-leading walk total came out of nowhere this year. His previous career high was 65 free passes. While it's entirely possible that Figgins made meaningful and permanent gains in his plate discipline this year as the lone Angel to follow the example of the saintly patient
Beltre hit just 103 more home runs as a Mariner (thanks in part to Safeco) and slugged just .442, but Figgins' career slugging percentage coming into Seattle is just .388. If he gives back 40 or so walks, his net offensive value will fall roughly in line with what the M's got from Beltre, only with the bulk of that value coming from on-base percentage rather than slugging. Figgins will also steal roughly 40 bases a year, but the other category in which he led the American League this year was caught stealing, his second time leading the league in that department in the last three years. Figgins was successful in just 71 percent of his steal attempts in 2009, a career low and one dangerously close to rendering his thefts moot, with the number of outs he runs into becoming as costly as the number of bags he steals is valuable. That Figgins' success rate has been declining as he has passed the age of 30 is an indication that his base stealing will either no longer be a part of his game by the final year of his new contract or will actually take away from his overall contribution to the team.
Which brings us to the largest concern about Figgins' new contract: his age. Figgins will turn 32 next month and will be 35 in the final year of his deal, which includes a vesting option that could keep Figgins in navy and teal until he's 36. Thirty-six isn't ancient for baseball players in general, but for an infielder whose game is built around speed, average, and defense, it just might be. One comparison that immediately springs to mind is
There's not much consolation in the list of Figgins' comparable players generated by PECOTA, the performance prediction system developed for Baseball Prospectus by forecasting savant
Speaking of the Angels, while signing Figgins may appear to accomplish two goals for the Mariners, improving their own team while weakening the dominant team in their division, they might have actually done the Angels a favor. The Angels, who play in a park that heavily favors right-handed power hitters, have former first-round pick
Should Wood fulfill his promise at the hot corner for the Halos, it could prove to be a bitter irony as the Figgins signing blocks the Mariners own third-base prospect,