It is a move that at once improves their own lineup and draws blood from one of their fiercest division rivals: The Seattle Mariners have locked up free agent leadoff man Chone Figgins with a four-year, $36 million deal.
Though the formal announcement likely will not come until the winter meetings next week in Indianapolis because Figgins first must pass a physical, make no mistake: This is a huge get for the Mariners.
One of general manager Jack Zduriencik's main goals this winter is to improve an offense that ranked last in the American League in runs scored and tied for last in on-base percentage and batting average.
An All-Star in 2009, Figgins ranked second in the AL behind the Yankees' Derek Jeter in times reaching base (285), led the AL in walks (101) and ranked second in the AL with a career-high 114 runs scored.
With Figgins atop their lineup, the Angels ranked second in the AL in runs scored. And as things stand now, they do not have a ready replacement for Figgins in the leadoff slot.
While some in the industry expressed surprise that Figgins would leave Anaheim for another team in the AL West that plays in a ballpark that isn't particularly hitter-friendly, the move makes sense on at least three levels outside of Figgins scoring his first major-money contract:
-- Figgins has great familiarity with Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, who was field coordinator for the Angels' minor-leagues when Figgins was a young player coming up through the system.
-- Mariners bench coach Ty Van Burkleo was a roving hitting instructor in the Angels' minor-league system as Figgins was developing.
-- Figgins' fiancé is from Vancouver, Canada, just a couple of hours' drive north of Seattle.
So. The immediate question now in Seattle becomes, where does Figgins fit into a lineup in which Ichiro Suzuki has batted leadoff in recent years? Maybe second in the order behind Ichiro, maybe lower.
Wherever, Figgins will give the Mariners an added dimension that they lacked in 2009.
In the field, Figgins is expected to fill a hole at third base as free agent Adrian Beltre seeks employment elsewhere. The Mariners offered Beltre arbitration and he has until Monday to decide whether to accept. The expectation is that he will not accept and will become a free agent.
If he does accept arbitration and returns to the Mariners, Beltre probably would play third base and Figgins could play second or the outfield.
In addition to ranking second in the AL in runs scored, Figgins also tied for third in the AL with 42 steals and is the only active player in the majors to swipe 30 or more bags in each of the past six seasons.
The biggest question revolves around his durability. At 32 on opening day 2010 and entering his first big contract, will Figgins be as effective in years three and four of this deal as the Mariners hope?
That, though, mostly is a question for down the road. For now, on a Mariners team that ranked as the most improved club in the game last summer and thinks it can contend in 2010, signing Figgins is very good news.