SEATTLE — In December of 2009, Chone Figgins came to the Mariners as a prized free-agent signing.
Three years later, he leaves Seattle as one of the biggest free-agent flops in franchise history.
Ultimately, the Mariners’ $36-million investment became, as general manager Jack Zduriencik put it, “an expendable piece.”
On Tuesday night, Figgins’ disappointing tenure in Seattle came to an end as the Mariners designated him for assignment, meaning he will be released if he doesn’t accept a minor league assignment or can’t be traded in the next 10 days.
Those options are a formality at this point, so for all intents and purposes, the Figgins era in Seattle ended Tuesday.
“He just became an expendable piece, that’s it,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said on a conference call. “That’s the end of the story.”
And Figgins was a very expensive, expendable piece. The Mariners still owe him $8 million of the four-year deal he signed three years ago. Ultimately, however, the Mariners decided it was more valuable to pay Figgins not to be a Mariner than to have him taking up a roster spot.
The move came on the day when Major League clubs had to set their 40-man rosters prior to the Rule 5 draft. The Mariners added to the 40-man roster infielder Vinnie Catricala, right-handed pitcher Brandon Maurer, outfielder Julio Morban and left-handed pitchers Anthony Fernandez and Bobby LaFramboise. To make room for those additions, they designated Figgins and outfielder Scott Cousins for assignment.
“I spoke to Chone just a little while ago and wished him the very best,” Zduriencik said. “He was very gracious, said that he was really appreciative of his time here in Seattle. Unfortunately it didn’t work out the way he thought it would work out or that we thought it would work out. He understands it’s time to turn the page and move forward. We wish him the very best and certainly hope that he’ll land with somebody else and it works out better for him.”
When they signed Figgins, Zduriencik and the Mariners hoped to have a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup with Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins, who was coming off of a career year in Anaheim in 2009. Figgins hit .298 that year with a .395 on base percentage, and the thought was that with him and Suzuki at the top of the lineup, the Mariners could produce runs even with limited power in their lineup.
Figgins could never match the success he had with the Angles while in Seattle.
As an every-day player in 2010, Figgins finished the season strong to salvage a .259 average, but that late-season success didn’t carry over to the following season. Figgins hit just .188 in 2011, but the Mariners, hoping to salvage his career, made him their leadoff hitter to open the season. That didn’t work out either, and Figgins hit just .181 and was relegated to a role on the bench in the second half of the season.
“It was just one of those things, at the time of the signing, it looked like it was going to be the right thing for all of us,” Zduriencik said. “He was excited about coming here, we thought it would be an interesting dimension with him and Ichiro, but it just never worked out. Sometimes you just don’t know why. It just didn’t work out, and as a result, you have to make a decision and move on. We did that today.”
Zduriencik said this move has been discussed internally for a while, and that Tuesday’s deadline is what led to it finally happening. In the past Zduriencik had discussed with teams about trading Figgins, but there wasn’t much of a market, particularly after it became clear late last season that Figgins had no future in Seattle.
“I had talked to many clubs,” Zduriencik said. “I had a lot of calls. There was some curiosity if you will, but I didn’t have anyone say they would take him, otherwise it wouldn’t have gotten to this point.”
And while the Mariners didn’t feel the need to free up a roster spot last season, they couldn’t justify keeping Figgins over a young player again.
“As we looked at the 40-man roster and looked at additions and subtractions, at this point, Chone became the guy that we felt needed to come off the roster,” Zduriencik said.
“He’s been here three years and it didn’t work out like he hoped or we hoped, and it’s tough to lose young players, and we didn’t want to do that.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.