Posted on: February 21, 2012 6:56 pm
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The game's worst-kept secret finally was uttered publicly -- and definitively -- by the Mariners here on Tuesday: Ichiro Suzuki, leadoff man extraordinaire for most of the past decade, will be bumped down in the lineup in 2012.
Suzuki, at 38, is coming off of his worst season in the majors. That, combined with the Mariners' persistent failure to score runs over the past two seasons, made it impossible for Seattle to justify keeping Ichiro atop the lineup.
Eric Wedge will begin the season with Ichiro hitting third. The manager envisions Chone Figgins, who was an All-Star as the Angels' leadoff man in 2009, returning to the top of the lineup in what likely will be a last-ditch grab at past glories for Figgins. Though it is not cast in stone, Wedge said second baseman Dustin Ackley likely will hit second.
Wedge said he and Ichiro talked on Monday before the Mariners made their decision public a day later.
"I sat down and explained to him the whys and wherefores," Wedge said. "This wasn't out of left field.
"He's on board with this. I was very clear with him, and he was very clear with me. This is all about the team. ...
"You look at the impact he can have in the middle of the lineup, it's greater than the impact that he can have at leadoff. It's that simple."
Suzuki, a lifetime .326 hitter, batted a career-worst .272 in 2011. It was the first time in 11 seasons that his average dipped below .300. The 2001 AL MVP's .310 on-base percentage also was, by far, a career low.
"I came in prepared mentally because there was a possibility I'd be hitting elsewhere," Ichiro said through a translator following Seattle's workout Tuesday.
Asked if it will be strange to not hit atop the lineup, Suzuki said: "Anything can happen in this game. It's not just leading off. That's the fun part of the game. Like I fell you guys all the time, I'm ready to pitch."
That likely will not be happening anytime soon. Though some Mariners' fans might swear at this point that Ichiro will take the mound before Figgins will bounce back.
Part of Wedge's thinking, he said, is to get Figgins back into his comfort zone. A colossal disappointment after signing a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2010 season, Figgins bottomed out last season at .188/.241/243. He suffered while doing so, managing what was thought to be a sports hernia through much of the season's final four months but what turned out to be a torn labrum in his hip.
"I'm happy to be healthy," said Figgins, who was married in the offseason. "We talked about what might happen [with the lineup], but I'm just happy to be healthy."
It's no secret that Figgins has been a fish out of water during his two years in Seattle, from having to adjust to a different (non-leadoff) spot in the batting order because of Ichiro to failing to figure out a way to fit his offensive game into Safeco Field.
Clearly, the Mariners are hoping that no small part of this move will result in a boost to Figgins' confidence.
"I'm going to give Figgins first shot at," the leadoff role, Wedge said. "I'm confident that Figgy can get back to his old self as a leadoff hitter. He got on base, scored runs, and really was a pain to opposing teams when he led off in Anaheim."
While the Mariners sort through the top two spots in their order and hope Figgins and Ackley can produce solid enough springs to solidify their roles, the heat will be on Suzuki, who has one year and $17 million left on his current Mariners' deal.
His slugging percentage has been below .400 in each of the past two seasons, and in three of the past four. His OPS has been below .800 in three of the past four seasons. He tweaked his batting stance over the winter, and now is utilizing a more wide-open stance this spring.
"I want to perform better," Suzuki said when asked why he made the changes. "We all make changes to perform better. That's one reason. That's the only reason."
He said he does not view the three-hole as requiring him to hit for more power, though that view likely will be at odds with other folks' expectations (starting with his employer). His career-high is 15 homers, in 2005. He had five last season. In his view, situations dictate some actions at the plate.
"I've always performed when wanting to hit a home run," he said. "Even when leading off, you want to hit a home run when it's the right time.
"That will not change."
His once jet-black hair now dotted with flecks of gray, Suzuki, according to Baseball Prospectus, saw his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop 100 points on line drives and 40 points on ground balls. Some of the former is attributable to luck (bad), while some of the latter likely is because of his age (getting old).
"I want him to make it his own," Wedge said of Ichiro and the three-hole in the lineup. "He's as smart a baseball player as we have in there. He wants to do what's best for the ballclub."
Said Ichiro: "I was always prepared to do what's best for the team."
Sunblock Day? Best day of the week so far. Temperature hanging in the mid-70s. Warm sun. Life is good.
Likes: Carlos Guillen, trying to stay in the game with the Mariners, intently watching the clubhouse television after practice. What was he watching? Footage of Prince Fielder joining his old Tigers teammates in Lakeland. ... Padres bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds staying strong while batting pancreatic cancer. He underwent off-season surgery to determine whether his tumor could be removed, but doctors said it could not be because it was entwined with surrounding arteries. But the good news is, it hasn't grown since last year and Akerfelds is back in uniform for San Diego this spring. ... Mariners general manager Jack Zdurencik has put together quite a front office, including relatively new additions Ted Simmons, Joe McIlvaine and Chris Gwynn. ... Gwynn says his brother, Tony, is doing great after last week's surgery to remove a cancerous tumor inside his right cheek. The brothers spoke over the telephone, and Chris says Tony, who had a nerve removed from his cheek and another transplanted from his neck/shoulder area to replace it, sounds "normal." ... Best scene Tuesday: A father leaning over close to his young son while Felix Hernandez was throwing a bullpen session and telling the boy, "Listen to him pop that glove." ... One heck of a story from Thomas Lake in the current Sports Illustrated looking at Wes Leonard, the Michigan high schooler who made a winning basket and then died on the court last winter, and the Fennville community. ... The sesame swordfish with orange chile salsa at the newly opened Richardson's in Phoenix. Fabulous meal the other night.
Dislikes: Manny Ramirez signing with Oakland. More on that later in the week.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone
The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone
-- We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce Springsteen
Posted on: December 7, 2010 1:02 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 12:41 am
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Paging the Los Angeles Angels, attention Angels.
Free agent Carl Crawford is still out there. So are free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre and free agent closer Rafael Soriano ... and, yes, free agent ace Cliff Lee.
After getting aced out of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia two years ago and failing to produce a leadoff hitter to replace Chone Figgins last year, the heat is on the Angels to swing and connect this winter. On something.
Crawford has been a high priority, according to sources, though late Tuesday night it was confirmed that the Angels were in contact with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, and that that dialog is expected to remain ongoing.
"We're conducting business. What other clubs do doesn't affect how we operate."
Maybe that helps explain why the Angels, who took hard runs at both Teixeira and Sabathia two winters ago, have swung and missed lately. What other clubs do does affect the rest in this game, because market values are set.
Here in Florida, Crawford's market is still taking shape, and you bet the Werth contract will be a barometer.
The Angels are one of the few teams with pockets deep enough to pull up a chair at Crawford's table. One break they may have gotten in the past few days is that in acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox may be out on Crawford -- at least, at seven or eight years.
The Red Sox are said to have agreed with Gonzalez on the parameters of a seven-year deal worth between $161 and $168 million that likely will be finalized sometime around Opening Day. It's hard to see Boston signing two players to contracts that long in one winter.
Other than the Angels' interest, things have been awfully quiet here regarding Crawford.
The Angels always operate with the secrecy of a CIA spy, but until Tuesday night and the Lee revelation, there was little indication that much of anything was happening.
Beltre? The Angels currently are not taking an aggressive path there, according to a source with knowledge of the club's thinking.
Soriano? No indicators there, either.
Reagins, scrambling because of a flight delay Monday, was among the last GM's -- and, far as anybody can tell, the last -- to arrive at the Winter Meetings.
Owner Arte Moreno is known for being aggressive. But over the past couple of years, he hasn't been aggressive enough.
The Angels got worse last year. They looked old. They were slow.
The decision to let Figgins walk backfired when Erick Aybar did not develop into a leadoff hitter. The decision to let Guerrero walk blew up when he had a great year and Hideki Matsui was disappointing.
Suddenly, the shift of power in the AL West is becoming evident.
Texas not only won the division, but the Rangers are loaded with good, young talent. They're not going anywhere.
The A's have the kind of good, young pitching that has them poised to recapture some of the glory of old.
Seattle? Well, let's not get carried away here. Not everybody in the division is on the move.
Right now, though, in terms of forward momentum, the Angels are more Seattle than Texas.
Mike Scioscia said Tuesday that the return to health of first baseman Kendry Morales, who slammed 34 home runs and collected 108 RBIs two summers ago before suffering a season-ending broken leg early in 2010, will be a boon in 2011.
Looks like a whole lot of scapegoats. And so far, not much else.
Posted on: December 5, 2009 2:16 am
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.
Posted on: October 21, 2009 5:44 pm
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Facing a stunningly swift termination of their season, the Angels worked out under sunny skies Wednesday afternoon still attempting to figure out what's hit them in this AL Championship Series.
"They've obviously said they didn't want to let me get on base," said leadoff man Chone Figgins, saddled with a .125 batting average and .263 on-base percentage in this ALCS. "They're doing their damndest to make that happen."
Doing a pretty darn fair job of it, too.
"All year, we've been good," outfielder Bobby Abreu said of the Angels' struggles with runners in scoring position. "We're doing too much, that's what it is. Sometimes we're swinging at bad pitches."
Yeah, but CC Sabathia didn't make them chase in Game 4. If the Angels weren't swinging, they were going to be behind 0 and 2 in each count before they knew what hit them.
"The Yankees ... have been able to dictate terms of how this game unfolds with getting some early runs and getting on the board early," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They were getting to their power arms in their pen in Games 1 and 2. And obviously, on the mound, they're doing a terrific job against us."
The Angels this season ranked second to the Yankees in runs scored and several other offensive categories in the AL.
The Angels are at their best when they run, but it's difficult to do that when few of them are reaching base. And of those who did, some complained that the cold, hard ground made it difficult to run in New York.
Back here in Anaheim, that's not the case. But lefties Pettitte and Sabathia have kept baserunners in check consistently. Pettitte threw to first base 17 times during his time on the mound in Game 3.
"Their pitching," Figgins said. "It's not a surprise, but they're keeping the big innings from happening. We need to make the pitches they're making. And their big guys are coming up with home runs. They're getting the huge hit and we haven't done that on our side."
Bottom line is, the Yankees have swarmed the Angels so thoroughly that the Angels not only have been off their game, but they haven't been able to get anywhere close to retrieving it.
"We've been waiting for that since the first game," Torii Hunter said. "We haven't quite gotten there yet, but it's getting late.
"The bell's about to ring."
The Yankees, meanwhile, mostly had their game-faces on Wednesday -- even though there was no game.
"We didn’t come out here to win three games in a series and be happy about it," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "That's why we're here for practice today.
"And we're going to go out and have a great practice. We're not going to go through the motions."
Likes: That last quote from Damon, delivered so earnestly, was a gem. ... What a bonanza for the Mariners, catcher Kenji Johjima opting out of the final two years of his contract to go play in Japan. Talk about a win-win proposition. And according to Mariners spokesman Tim Hevly, the Mariners owe him nothing. ... Manny Mota to receive the Ray Boone Family award at the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation's annual dinner/gala Jan. 16 in Los Angeles at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel. ... Bruce Springsteen bringing his mother onstage Tuesday night in Philadelphia to dance with him on Dancing in the Dark. Sure wish I could have been there for a three hour-plus show -- on an off night during the NL Championship Series, nonetheless. But I'm glad several baseball writer friends were able to attend. As well as Dodgers manager Joe Torre and GM Ned Colletti.
Dislikes: Balloon Boy.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Well, I can't tell lies, 'cause they're listening to me
-- Cheap Trick, Dream Police
Posted on: July 12, 2009 7:16 pm
ST. LOUIS -- The All-Star replacements are trickling in, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena subbing for Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Milwaukee's Trevor Hoffman in for the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton. Last week, Texas' Nelson Cruz was chosen to replace injured Angels' center fielder Torii Hunter.
Still missing is Angels' infielder Chone Figgins, who really, really was hoping to go.
As in, he's spent much time over the past few weeks watching replays of old All-Star Games on MLB Network during the day before leaving for work in the afternoons.
Figgins was hoping that maybe in a National League park, without the designated hitter, there'd be more room for a speedy scrapper like himself. He also was hoping that maybe he'd have an in with American League manager Joe Maddon, a former Angels coach.
Figgins certainly is deserving of consideration: He's ranked ninth in the AL in on-base percentage (.392), tied for second in triples (six), fourth in steals (27) and fourth in batting average against right-handers (.342).
Besides, he recently promised that if selected, he'd do a backflip in St. Louis in tribute to Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
"I heard that," said Smith, 54, who managed the United States team in Sunday's Futures Game at Busch Stadium. "That would have been nice to see, because I darn sure can't do it anymore."