Figgins' addition doesn't rule out Beltre
Mariners say veteran's versatility leaves door open at third
INDIANAPOLIS -- Welcome to Seattle, Chone Figgins. And don't go so fast, Adrian Beltre?In the immediate aftermath of Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik's expected official Winter Meetings introduction of his new third baseman, who signed for four years and $36 million with a vesting option for a fifth year, the big news from the club's end was that Figgins might not be that third baseman after all.
Not even 24 hours after Beltre declined the Mariners' arbitration offer, Zduriencik put him right back on the Seattle radar by not specifying where the versatile Figgins would play and indicating that the club is not giving up on bringing back the guy who's manned the hot corner at Safeco Field for the past five seasons."I think we've made it clear, we have interest in another infielder who used to be here," Zduriencik said, and he wasn't referring, in this instance at least, to free-agent first baseman Russell Branyan. "We do see [Figgins] as a fit somewhere in our infield," Zduriencik said. "That is yet to be determined where. We are very excited, having played against Chone in our division for the last several years and seeing him up close and personal. He's a nice fit to the club. It brings us an athlete, someone with versatility, and someone that we think has the character and makeup to fit in very nicely with our ballclub." Meanwhile, Figgins, who had just landed in his hometown of Tampa, Fla., from his short visit in Seattle to take his physical, told reporters that the Mariners were a comfortable fit, citing the fact that manager Don Wakamatsu, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and new third-base coach Mike Brumley were all instrumental mentors during Figgins' development in the Angels' farm system. "The whole staff seems to be a manager or coach of mine during my Minor League days," Figgins said. "They're very familiar with me and know what type of player I am." Wakamatsu admitted that when he first encountered Figgins in Double-A ball, he didn't necessarily predict future big league stardom for the 5-foot-8, 180-pound switch-hitter. "I was a bad scout," Wakamatsu said with a smile. "I told him that I didn't predict he'd become the great player he is. But the thing I do remember is his desire to become something. ... He's an awfully tough competitor for the package." And as far as the Mariners' package of on-field talent for 2010 is concerned, well, it continues to evolve. If Beltre does come back, Figgins, who has started big league games at third, second, shortstop, and all three outfield positions as well as designated hitter, will play second. That will force the club to either trade Jose Lopez or move him to first. Meanwhile, Zduriencik ruled out the possibility of Figgins occupying left, so the club will still search for a big bat to play there. "We'll have options," Zduriencik said. "We have talked about the possibility of [Figgins] playing a few positions. I think that when we roll into Spring Training, that picture will be a little clearer. Right now, he wants to be in the infield. He will be in our infield. And depending on what happens from this point forward, exactly where he will play, is, again, yet to be determined." Figgins said that sounded fine with him. "I've moved around pretty much my whole career," he said. "I think the guys know I'm pretty much prepared for anything." No matter what happens with Beltre, the Mariners are getting a dynamic player to help kick-start the team with the lowest on-base percentage in the American League last year, and they're signing him away from the Angels, who happen to be the team the Mariners are trying to catch in the AL West. Figgins, 31, batted .291 with a career-high 114 runs scored and 30 doubles, drove in 54 runs, led the AL in walks with 101, stole 42 bases and compiled a career-best on-base percentage of .395 while hitting .333 with runners in scoring position. He also ranked third in baseball for third basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating, a key defensive statistic. "He is an absolute pain to defend," Wakamatsu said. "Once he's on base, he knows what he's doing. He's a very intelligent player, so there are a lot of options." Figgins, who was the Angels' leadoff man, will likely fit right into the No. 2 spot in the lineup behind longtime leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki, but Zduriencik said he'd leave that decision to Wakamatsu based on how the still-to-be-completed roster looks when the team arrives in Peoria, Ariz., in February. Figgins said he expects to fit in in the No. 2 hole but would leave it to Wakamatsu, who has said nothing is set in stone right now. "I just come to play wherever you decide to put me," Figgins said. "Ichiro is obviously one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, so with me plugged into the two-spot, being a high on-base percentage guy ... but that's just my decision. I'd be honored to hit second behind Ichiro. "To get to hit behind him and create a whole lot of havoc with him at the top of the lineup, it should be very interesting." In the end, Figgins said he couldn't help but notice how much the Mariners had improved during the 2009 season, and the idea of taking on a new challenge and still playing for what he believes to be a playoff-caliber club was too good to pass up. "They gave us a lot of trouble last year," Figgins said. "As a fan of baseball, it kind of gives you chills when one or two things they changed made them a contender in the division." The four-year deal and option for a fifth at the age of 31 -- he turns 32 in January -- doesn't hurt, either, and Figgins didn't try to hide his happiness to be a Mariner. "I was wanted by them," he said, "and it's a good thing to be wanted."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.