How Much Longer Will Figgins Keep His Job?

It appears that the Giants are preparing to cut their losses. Paying Miguel Tejada $6.5 million to produce -0.9 WAR won’t rank among Brian Sabean’s career highlights, but at this point it appears wiser to write off the sunk cost than continue the experiment. When the team activates Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list later this week, chances are we’ll see the Giants release one of three worst regulars in the league.

Tejada, however, is not the worst hitter in the league. Two players have managed to outdo his .223 wOBA. One is Alcides Escobar, though he at least provides value with the glove. WIth a UZR of 6 he ranks seventh in the league, and fourth among infielders; his DRS also ranks near the top of the league. But not even Escobar’s .218 wOBA sits in the league’s cellar. That dishonor belongs to Chone Figgins, with a .207 wOBA. While his leash is understandably longer than Tejada’s, I do wonder exactly how far it extends.

While last year was a disappointment for Figgins — his .302 wOBA was the lowest he’d produced during his career as a full-time player — this year is nothing but a disaster. At least last season he had two months where he produced an above-average wOBA. This year things have gotten progressively worse, as he went from a .250 wOBA in April to .176 in May. In June he is 3-for-21, all singles, with one walk. He’s also 7-for-13 in stolen base attempts, which is miles off his career 74% success rate. Of course, he might be pressing on the base paths, because he’s not out there very often; his .227 OBP is lowest in the league by 10 points.

It’s clear that the Mariners are seeking upgrades to their league-worst offense. Today they called up Mike Carp, 25, to help boost production in left field. The Mariners have just a .276 wOBA from that position, which is the second-worst mark in the league. That sets the bar low for Carp, who can help his team even with below-average production. Yet, there is no bar lower than the Mariners at third base. The team .221 wOBA at the position is worst in the league by 45 points. Upgrading there would mean an even more significant boost to the team’s offensive output.

There’s a clear fit, too. Dustin Ackley has been destroying the PCL this year, producing a .404 wOBA in 296 PA. There was a good chance he’d make his way to Seattle this year, anyway, and now that we’re around the Super Two deadline his call-up becomes more and more likely. Of course, the Mariners planned to make him an easy decision, as they signed Adam Kennedy this off-season to take over the position. Yet Kennedy has been the team’s second best hitter this year, so they can’t exactly put him to the bench. He would have to take over third base, where he has played 737 innings in the last two years. That could provide the Mariners with a more significant upgrade than they’d get with Carp in left, and could help keep the offense moving as they continue contending in the AL West.

If it were that easy, though, the Mariners likely would have made the move already. Figgins himself presents an obstacle, since he has two years and $17 million remaining on his contract after this year. Would they release him now, just a year and two-plus months into the contract? Could they, and he, deal with a temporary bench assignment? It’s easy for us, looking in from the outside, to declare the Figgins contract a sunk cost and move on from it. But that’s a very real $20 million or so the Mariners still owe Figgins, and they want every chance to recoup some of that value. That makes benching a more likely scenario, though that involves handling egos, and thus is not in the wheelhouse of a FanGraphs writer.

The Mariners are in a tough spot right now. They’re 31-30, just 2.5 games behind the Rangers, who haven’t demonstrated any kind of dominance in the AL West. With some improvements on the offensive side of the ball they could stay in the race right through September. But that means making those changes, and making them tout de suite. The right move, from a baseball standpoint, is to bench or release Figgins and promote Ackley, preferably two weeks ago. But with upwards of $20 million involved, the matter becomes more complicated. What’s more important, hanging on in an attempt to extract value from a high-priced free agent, or doing everything possible to remain in contention for the division? I think the answer is clear to outsiders. I wonder how it looks from inside the Mariners’ front office.

Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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I certainly hope you’re right about Tejada. Signs seem to be pointing in that direction, but it’s far from a lock.