Chone Figgins signs four-year, $36-million deal, and Mariners say they still hope to sign Adrian Beltre, who declined salary arbitration Monday
INDIANAPOLIS — Chone Figgins described his new Mariners team as “a good fit” on the day his contract was finally signed and sealed.
But exactly where Figgins is going to fit is still up in the air after the Mariners managed to inject some surprise into an announcement that had been a foregone conclusion for days. The ink had barely dried Tuesday on a four-year, $36-million deal for Figgins when Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik declared that he wasn’t sure exactly which infield position the former Angels third baseman was going to play.
Zduriencik then strongly hinted, in front of a roomful of reporters at the baseball winter meetings, that he was still pursuing free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre despite the latter’s decision to decline arbitration the previous night. Figgins has agreed to slide from third base over to second in the event the Mariners can outbid other teams and secure Beltre’s services once again.
“Me and Jack [Zduriencik] kind of talked, so it would probably be second,” Figgins said in a Tuesday night conference call from Florida, where he had just arrived after a flight back from Seattle. “I’ve moved around pretty much my whole career except last year, but even then I played a couple of games at second base. So, I think those guys know that I’m pretty much prepared for anything.”
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Zduriencik was believed to have met behind closed doors Tuesday night with Scott Boras, the agent for Beltre.
Figgins will likely have to shift his spot in the batting order as well, sliding down to the No. 2 spot from his customary leadoff role. The No. 1 slot has been Ichiro’s domain since he broke into the majors in 2001 and Figgins made a convincing argument for why that should not change.
“I was just personally thinking that Ichiro is obviously one of the best leadoff hitters in the game,” he said. “He’s able to do what he’s doing in the one-spot, so I figure with me plugged into the two-spot, being a little more patient at the plate, it makes an even more dangerous tandem at the one-two spot.”
Figgins will earn a $2 million signing bonus and be paid $8 million for 2010, $9 million for each of 2011 and 2012 and $9 million in 2013 according to contract figures obtained by The Associated Press. There’s also a $9 million vesting option for 2014 if he reaches 600 plate appearances in 2013.
He shrugged off questions about whether his longtime Angels team had ever added a fourth year to its contract proposal and instead talked about his eagerness in reuniting with manager Don Wakamatsu and several Mariners coaches.
Wakamatsu got to know Figgins in 2001 and 2002 as a minor-league field coordinator and roving instructor for the Angels. Figgins had come over from the Rockies as a Class AA prospect in a 2001 trade.
While in Colorado, Figgins had gotten to know current Mariners hitting coach Alan Cockrell during the 2001 season when the latter served as a minor-league hitting instructor for the Rockies. Figgins then played under new Mariners third-base coach Mike Brumley in 2002 and 2003 when the latter managed the Angels’ Class AA affiliate at Salt Lake City. Mariners bench coach Ty Van Burkleo also worked with him in the Angels system.
“They know what type of player I am, what type of guy I am,” Figgins said. “It’s just a good fit.”
Wakamatsu joked that he had told Figgins: “I was a bad scout. I didn’t predict that you’d become this great a player.”
In a more serious vein, Wakamatsu added: “What I do remember about him and it stayed true is his desire to become something. I remember in a short period, he had a great year there [in AA] and we sent him off to the [Arizona] Fall League. And he was really just … it was a minor-league deal at the time, there wasn’t much hoopla behind it.
“But he brought intangibles. And tangibles. We knew he could run. We didn’t know he could hit.”
The Mariners targeted Figgins as a free agent from the outset this offseason and Wakamatsu was as behind it as anyone.
“You talk to players in the game and from their point he’s a game-changer,” he said. “From a manager’s standpoint, he’s a game-changer because of his speed.”
The Mariners are still a team in transition, not knowing where Figgins will play, whether Beltre will be back and who they are going to get to drive in runs. Zduriencik admitted Tuesday that some players he had viewed as potential trade targets coming into these meetings — one of which may have been left fielder Curtis Granderson — quickly vaulted out of the range of what he was willing to give up.
But while Zduriencik isn’t sure exactly who will be driving in runs for him next season, he at least knows Figgins and Ichiro will be setting the table.
“Me and him as a one-two at the top of the order is going to be very interesting and a whole lot of fun,” Figgins said.
About as much fun as watching this ever-fluid team continue to take shape in the days and ahead.