There has not been a whole lot of news out ofcamp so far. Nor would you expect there to be - camp is just getting going. It's probably a good thing that there hasn't been a whole lot of news so far, because I think most news around this point is bad news. This guy's out of shape. That guy's still getting over an injury. That other guy has tuberculosis. I hope you like tuberculosis jokes because there are going to be a lot of them.
There's one thing now that's getting a lot of attention, though. Geoff Baker's been all over it. Chone Figgins has apparently been told by the team that he's going to play very very often, and Baker expects that Figgins will be named the new leadoff hitter within a few days.
Immediately, it sounds unpleasant. Immediately, the temptation is to snark. I saw a handful of #6org remarks floating around Twitter earlier in response. Last season, there were 265 batters who came to the plate at least 300 times. Chone Figgins had the worst OBP out of all of them. Chone Figgins also had the worst slugging percentage out of all of them. The Mariners, it would appear, want to see more of that guy. More of that guy who just posted a .484 OPS. That is a four, and then that is an eight. I didn't just make a typo.
But as much fun as snark can be, there's a reason it comes easily. It doesn't add anything worthwhile. It doesn't say anything worthwhile. I'm not wild about the idea of Chone Figgins playing a lot and batting leadoff myself, but you can understand where the team's coming from.
First of all: Chone Figgins hasn't been named the leadoff hitter, yet. He hasn't been regularly put in the lineup, yet. At this point, right now, it's all words and speculation.
But let's say Figgins does start out with plenty of playing time. Let's say Figgins does supplant Ichiro at the top of the order. Then what?
Then we see. Then we see, and then the team sees. If the Mariners name Chone Figgins their leadoff hitter this week, that wouldn't mean anything for September, or August, or July, or so on. That would mean something for the end of March and the beginning of April. From there on, things can change. Things do change, all the time, often unpredictably.
It's important to understand that, if the Mariners commit to Figgins, it won't be to reward him. Chone Figgins has done nothing for which he ought to be rewarded. But that's exactly the thing. If the Mariners commit to Figgins, it'll be because they're trying to get him going. They're trying to get him going by making a change. Chone Figgins claims that he's most comfortable batting leadoff. Okay, then the Mariners can give him a trial. If it works, it works. That would be interesting and weird. If it doesn't work - and it should go without saying that I'm skeptical - then the Mariners can be like "well we tried."
If the Mariners commit to Figgins, and Figgins keeps on underachieving, he's not going to keep playing all the time, and he's not going to keep batting near the top of the order. It would really just be a test. It would be the Mariners exploring another option before having to cut bait. You and I can say that they should just cut bait now, or a year ago, but the Mariners invested a lot in the guy, and you can understand why they'd have more patience. Especially in a season like this.
Remember, the Mariners are probably looking at playoff odds around, I don't know, three percent. Put another way, the Mariners as constructed are probably a mid-70s win team, with upside and perhaps more downside than we'd care to acknowledge. If the Mariners play Figgins a lot from the beginning and he's bad, what is that really going to cost them? A win? A win that presumably isn't going to mean very much? If that's what it would take to know for sure that Figgins is a lost cause, well, okay. This year is about learning and developing. It's not going to be about contending unless a whole lot of things go really really well.
Chone Figgins is an unpopular player, at least among the fans. Of course he is. He's been bad, and he hasn't been particularly likable. People don't like hearing talk that the Mariners are going to try to get him going again. But if the Mariners could get him going, wouldn't that be great? Weren't most of us supportive of the contract at the time? Would it really be so crazy for the Mariners to try one last thing? Let's face it - it's not like Chone Figgins is blocking a big-time prospect at the moment. Kyle Seager has half a season above double-A. Plus he's Kyle Seager. And so on.
I don't see anything particularly objectionable about the Mariners trying to get Chone Figgins back on his feet. I don't think that playing him all the time and batting him leadoff is the answer. I suspect that Chone Figgins is just not that good a baseball player anymore. He's 34 and little. But I get it. I get what it seems like the Mariners are thinking. This would get objectionable if it gets to be June or July and Figgins is bad and still playing a lot. Now? Give him a shot. Whatever. Maybe, right?
I've written a lot of words explaining why I don't think something is a big deal. And that something isn't even official yet. I haven't even touched on the other side of Chone Figgins batting leadoff, which would be Ichiro no longer batting leadoff. I also don't think that would be a big deal, although it would definitely be strange. Ichiro's a leadoff hitter. That's long been a part of his identity. Now that part of his identity could be changing, just like other parts of his identity.
Lots of words. Maybe not worth this many words. Chone Figgins as a regular and a leadoff hitter? Ehh. It probably wouldn't work. But it could work, if batting order position is as important to Figgins as he seems to think it is. I don't like this idea if Figgins is bad and they keep it up, but Figgins hasn't been bad yet. Not post-change Figgins. So let's see where we are after a handful of weeks. Then we'll have data, and it's always better with data.