Mariners Demote Ichiro, Find Surprise Leadoff Man In Figgins

SEATTLE, WA: Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners walks off the field after striking out against the Texas Rangers during a game at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Following a terrible 2011 season, Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki has lost his job as leadoff man. But his replacement might surprise anybody who was paying attention last year.

Yes, it's actually happening. Supposedly. For essentially the first time in his brilliant-until-2011 career, Ichiro will not be slated for leadoff duties this season. Not that anyone should be all that surprised at this point. Geoff Baker:

The Mariners would have needed to take out front page ads in both the Seattle and New York Times not to have dropped any broader hints that Ichiro would be moved out of the leadoff role this season.

--snip--

But again: the writing has been on the wall for some time. I'm a little surprised at some of the uproar I keep seeing on the blog and my Twitter feed. I know that some of you are upset that Chone Figgins is almost certainly going to get first crack at the job.

But really, if not Figgins, who else?

Remember, Figgins was not batting leadoff the last two years when his numbers plummeted. Prior to that, he was the leadoff hitter with the Angels and one of the best in baseball at that role.

Two Truths:

1. Someone does have to lead off. It's in the rules.

2. The Mariners are going to finish third or fourth. Distantly. So it really doesn't matter who leads off.

Here are two things I think are True:

a. If Chone Figgins could not hit in the No. 2 slot -- where he spent all of 2010 and most of '11 -- there's little reason to think he will hit in the No. 1 slot. I mean, I would absolutely love to see the study suggesting that a top-of-the-order hitter's performance really hinges on whether he's batting first or second. Seriously.

b. The Mariners don't have trouble scoring runs because the right guys are in the wrong spots in the lineup. They have trouble scoring runs because they have the wrong guys.

Or have had, anyway. The Mariners averaged 3.3 runs per game over the last two seasons, which is hilarious unless you care about the Mariners, in which case it's some sort of cosmic tragedy inflicted by this guy.

Moving Ichiro is unlikely to make him hit better, and moving Figgins is unlikely to make him hit better, and frankly everyone would be a lot better off if Eric Wedge spent less time worrying about trivial bullshit and read more books about baseball and psychology and baseball psychology.

I think.

Meanwhile, the real issue a lot of people have is with Desmond DeChone Figgins being in the lineup at all. Or on the roster. Baker:

When the decision was made last summer not to release Figgins, the Mariners owed it to themselves to at least try to revive his career. To at least try to get some value out of a four-year deal now halfway done.

We've talked about this since last summer. Most teams don't eat $20 million worth of salary. That's the type of deal that gets GMs fired, even if they make five good moves in the interim.

No, the M's were always going to try to salvage this. And until they put Figgins in the leadoff role for an extended time, they'll never be able to say they fully tried to save something from this deal.

Geoff Baker's a good reporter, and so I tend to believe him. And here's something else I think ... If management is keeping Figgins around just so they can say they tried -- you know, as opposed to thinking it will actually work -- then something's wrong at the top. I mean, there's also the obvious inability to understand that Figgins is simply a sunk cost, unless they really do think that he's got something left. Which he probably doesn't. Oddly enough.

On the plus side, keeping Figgins means the Mariners might actually get something out of him, to the point where they might actually be able to trade him for, at the very least, a bit of payroll relief.

On the minus side, keeping Figgins means the Mariners might get nothing out of him -- as they did last season -- in which case the front office will look even dumber, and the fans will become even more disgusted. And Alex Liddi will be stuck in Tacoma for no particularly good reason.

But Alex Liddi could probably use more Tacoma time, considering how often he struck out last season. And I'm not sure the fans could get any more disgusted than they already are.

The only thing that bothers me about all this is how much time everybody's spent thinking about it. Including me.

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