Sports with Art Thiel
9:00 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

Ichiro lineup move necessary...but Chone Figgins leading off?

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel called for it last season. And now the Mariners have made it official. They announced this week that long-time leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki has been moved to No. 3 in the lineup.

But the player the Mariners chose to replace Ichiro in the top spot has left a lot of fans scratching their heads.

Money behind move to have Figgins lead off

Art says there's a perfectly good reason to have Chone Figgins leading off. It's just not a reason that many fans like. The Mariners are trying to get something for Figgins, who's costing them a lot but not being very productive. He hit .188 last year in 81 games and sat out for part of the season with a hip injury.

"Figgins thinks he can come back to the form that got him that $36 million contract over four years from the Mariners as a free agent. Two years remain on that. And the issue here for putting him in lead off is not that he's going to do that, it's to showcase him in case he does – so the Mariners can trade him."

Will Figgins be able to shine in the top spot? Art is not too sure.

"There's probably about a 25 percent chance that Figgins will revert to the form that he had years ago when he was a productive player for the Angels. But there's a zero percent chance he will if he's on the bench. So the Mariners have to showcase them."

Same old M.O. for the M's

Art says the Mariners' challenge with Figgins is nothing new.

"The problem for that – and this is the despairing part, I think, for Mariners fans – is that there always seems to be someone in the lineup who's there for reasons other than being the best possible player for that lineup."

Art says, last year, it was troubled outfielder Milton Bradley they were trying to shop around. The year before that it was pitcher Carlos Silva who Art says was "making way too much money for his value, but they trotted him out there hoping to get a trade."

Younger players get cheated

Art says if Figgins doesn't hit, he's going to go back to the bench. Then the Mariners would have to eventually cut him and eat the balance of his big contract. Art says the biggest loser in all of this is the young player waiting in the wings.

"When Figgins makes an out at age 34, it's a dead out. But if you have a 24-year-0ld up-and-comer like Kyle Seager at third base, he will learn from his outs and learn about the opposing pitchers and become a better player. So, occupying that spot with a veteran who's being showcased is – unless he hits very, very well – a waste. And the Mariners have been doing that a lot. And that's where the despair sets in for many a Mariner fan with this lineup change."

Ichiro's move signals significant change

Art says Ichiro "has taken one for the team" in agreeing to do something he didn't want to do - leave the leadoff position. The change comes on the heels of the worst year of his career in America.

"He's got a little bit of a different value system: showing up and delivering hits every day – almost like a metronome – that's his value. But now he's saying 'alright, if you want me to hit third, I will.' And he's adjusting his batting stroke accordingly. He's attempting to hit the ball differently than going for the infield chop. He's trying to drive the ball to the outfield, which is what the typical no. 3 hitter is supposed to do."

Art says Ichiro should get credit for making the adjustment and realizing that things have to be different this year.

You can find more coverage about the Mariners' lineup change at Sportspress Northwest.