The Chone Figgins era – a three-year period of unmet expectations, mutual frustration and lack of production – came to an end in Seattle on Tuesday night, when the Mariners designated him for assignment. It effectively ended a relationship with the 34-year old infielder that resulted in nothing more than millions of dollars spent by the Mariners, and very little in return from Figgins.
With 40-man rosters needing to be finalized by a 9 p.m. deadline, and a few valuable prospects not on the 40-man roster, who were at risk of being claimed by other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, the Mariners needed to create space.
Figgins was a necessary casualty.
“We had to make a decision to move on,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said via conference call on Tuesday evening. “He’s been here for three years and it didn’t work out like we hoped or he hoped.”
Because he’s still under contract for the 2013 season, the Mariners will pay the remaining $8 million to Figgins despite getting rid of him.
“I spoke to Chone a little while ago and wished him the best,” Zduriencik said. “He was very appreciative of his time here in Seattle. He understands it was time to turn the page and move forward.”
Figgins was Zduriencik’s first big free agent signing. It was a disaster almost from the start.
Figgins was coming off an impressive 2009 season with the Los Angeles Angels where he hit .298 with a .395 on-base percentage and scored 72 runs and stole 34 bases. Zduriencik signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract to be their everyday third baseman and hit behind Ichiro Suzuki atop the lineup to give the Mariners a 1-2 speed punch.
Instead, Figgins never figured out how to hit behind Ichiro or in a Mariners uniform. He struggled immediately, groused about being demoted in the batting order and even got in a dugout altercation with then-manager Don Wakamatsu after being benched for a mistake. He hit .235 in the first half of the 2010 season. He pushed his batting average to .259 by the end by hitting .286 in the second half, but still finished the season with a .340 on-base percentage and 114 strikeouts.
Any thoughts of a rebound year in 2011 were diminished quickly. He hit .214 in the first month of the season and saw his playing time steadily dwindle. By August, the Mariners had placed Figgins on the disabled list and left him there.
The organization tried one last time to salvage something of Figgins last season. They named him the starting third baseman coming out of spring training, and even moved him back to the lead-off spot in the order – a place where he had his most success with the Angels.
It didn’t matter.
Figgins hit .209 with a .274 on-base percentage and 24 strikeouts in the first 23 games. He was supplanted by Kyle Seager at third base and never saw consistent playing time again. In the second half of the season, he appeared in 15 games and started just seven. He was a forgotten player in an organization moving forward without him.
Figgins appeared in 303 games for the Mariners over three seasons and hit just .227 with a .290 on-base percentage.
How did it all go so very wrong?
“Anybody out there’s guess would be as good as mine,” Zduriencik said. “At the time of the signing, it looked like it would be the right thing for all of us.”
Instead, Figgins became of a symbol for the Mariners’ offensive ineptness, routinely drawing boos even from the dwindling Safeco Field crowds.
By the middle of last season, the consternation surrounding Figgins for simply being on the roster magnified. Mariners’ fans were ready for him to be removed from the team, not wanting a reminder of all that had gone wrong. The Mariners ownership did not give in and kept him in hopes of salvaging something with a trade.
But it became apparent this offseason like it was last season, Figgins had basically no value to other teams.
“I talked to many clubs and I had a lot of calls,” Zduriencik said. “There was some curiosity. But I didn’t have anyone say they would take him, otherwise it wouldn’t have gotten to this point.”
Figgins wasn’t the only roster move for the Mariners. They made a minor trade today, sending outfielder Trayvon Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for infielder Robert Andino.
Zduriencik called it a “trade for need.” Andino, who can play second, third and shortstop fills the need for a back-up utility player.
He hit .211 with 41 runs, 13 doubles, seven home runs and 28 RBI in 127 games for Baltimore as a utility player.
“The addition of Robert Andino gives us some experienced infield depth with a player who has played multiple positions” said Zduriencik.
Robinson played in 46 games – 39 starts – for the Mariners this past season, hitting .221 with 16 runs, three homers and 12 RBI.
Besides the trade, the Mariners designated outfielder Scott Cousins for assignment. Cousins, who was claimed off of waivers a few weeks ago, never actually put on a uniform for the organization.
With five open spots, the Mariners added five players to their 40-man roster: pitchers Anthony Fernandez, Brandon Maurer and Bobby LaFromboise, infielder Vinnie Catricala and outfielder Julio Morban.
The lefty-tossing LaFromboise was named the Tacoma Rainiers pitcher of the year, going 5-2 with four saves and a 1.59 ERA in 28 relief appearances. Maurer, a hard-throwing right-hander, , was named Southern League’s most outstanding pitcher and the Mariners most improved pitcher, after going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 24 starts with Double-A Jackson. He struck out 117 and walked just 48 over 137 2/3 innings pitched. Fernandez, another lefty, went 6-8 with a 3.51 ERA in combined 27 starts between in Class A High Desert and Double A Jackson.
Catricala earned the Mariners minor league player of the year honors in 2011 after hitting .349 with 77 extra base hits and 106 RBI between High Desert and Jackson. He spent this season with Tacoma, and struggle, hitting .229 with 23 doubles and 10 home runs in 122 games for the Rainiers. Morban, only 20 years old, hit .313 with a .911 on-base plus slugging percentage in and 17 homers in 52 RBI in 76 games with High Desert. He played in just 82 games because of three different trips to the disabled list.
Catricala, 24, was the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 after batting .349 (182×521) with 77 extra base hits and 106 RBI in 133 games with Single-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. He made the jump the Triple-A Tacoma last season, where he hit .229 (106×463) with 23 doubles and 10 home runs in 122 games for the Rainiers. Catricala played for the Arizona Fall League champion Peoria Javelinas batting .279 (19×68) with 2 home runs and 13 RBI in 19 games playing third base, first base and left field. He finished the AFL season hitting safely in his final 8 games (.419/13×31). The Sacramento, CA native was originally selected by Seattle in the 10th round of the 2009 June draft out of the University of Hawai’i.
Fernandez, 22, went 6-8 with a 3.51 ERA (64 ER, 164.0 IP) in 27 starts combined between Single-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson in 2012. The left-hander set a career-highs in innings pitched and ranked 3rd amongst all Mariners farmhands with 134 strikeouts. Fernandez began the season with the Mavericks before being promoted to Jackson on June 21. He became the first Jackson pitcher in franchise history to post back-to-back 9.0-inning complete games in first 2 starts, June 23 vs. Huntsville (9.0,6,1,1,1,5) and June 28 at Pensacola (9.0,2,0,0,1,8). Fernandez was originally signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent September 29, 2006. Over his first six seasons in the minor leagues, he is 32-25 with 2 saves and a 3.45 ERA (202 ER, 527.2 IP) in 117 games, 76 starts.
LaFromboise (pronounced lah-frahm-BOYCE), 26, had a breakthrough year in his fifth professional season in the Mariners organization. The left-hander combined for a 1.36 ERA (10 ER, 66.1 IP) and a .191 opponent batting average (45×235, 1 HR) while going 6-2 with 6 saves in 47 appearances with Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma. LaFromboise was named the Rainiers Pitcher of the Year going 5-2 with 4 saves and a 1.59 ERA in 27 relief appearances. He also combined to strand 22 of 23 inherited runners during the season. He posted a 5.54 ERA (8 ER, 13.0 IP) in 13 relief appearances with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, including 10 scoreless outings. The Downey, CA native was originally selected by the Mariners in the 8th round of the 2008 June draft out of the University of New Mexico.
Maurer, 22, was named Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher and the Mariners Most Improved Pitcher, after going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA (49 ER, 137.2 IP) in 24 starts with Double-A Jackson. The right-hander led the league with a .818 winning percentage and ranked 5th in ERA, while helping Jackson to the best record in the Southern League in 2012 (79-61). Over the course of the season Maurer limited opponents to a .260 (133×512) batting average, while walking 48 and striking out 117. Over his final 14 starts of the season, from June 1-Aug. 16, Maurer posted a 7-1 record with a 2.50 ERA (24 ER, 86.1 IP) and recorded 10 quality starts. He was the Mariners 23rd round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Orange Lutheran (CA) High School. Maurer is 16-17 with a 3.65 ERA (131 ER, 323.0 IP) in 67 games, 58 starts in his four-year minor league career.
Morban, 20, batted .313 (94×300) and recorded a .911 OPS (.316 OBP, .550 SLG) with 16 doubles, 2 triples, 17 home runs and 52 RBI in 76 games with Single-A High Desert. The native of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic was limited to 82 games during the 2012 season with three separate trips to the disabled list. In four minor league seasons, Morban has combined to bat .279 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI. He was originally signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2008.
Cousins, 27, was claimed off waivers from Toronto on Nov. 6. The outfielder split last season between AAA New Orleans and the Miami Marlins. With the Marlins he appeared in 53 games, batting .163 (14×86) with 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run and 3 RBI. He played all three outfield positions for the Marlins (LF – 6 G/0 GS, CF – 18 G/8 GS, RF – 12 G/6 GS). With New Orleans he batted .296 (69×233) in 61 games. He also played with the Marlins in 2010 (27 G) and 2011 (48 G).
Figgins, 34, appeared in 308 games for the Mariners from 2010-12, batting a combined .227 (240×1056) with 37 doubles, 5 triples, 4 home runs and 57 stolen bases. In 2012 he appeared in 66 games while playing four positions (LF – 38 G/29 GS, 3B – 10 G/6 GS, CF – 9 G/8 GS, RF – 1 G/GS). The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Figgins before he becomes a free agent.