Mariners On The Verge of Signing Chone Figgins. Whither Adrian Beltre?

he AP reports that Chone Figgins has signed a deal with the Seattle Mariners that would guarantee him $36 million over 4 years, with a vesting option for a 5th year to make the deal worth up to $45 million. Figgins would likely be the Mariners opening day third baseman and slide nicely into the top of the order with Ichiro to form the fastest on-base duo in recent memory, however, earlier this week the Mariners offered arbitration to Adrian Beltre who has manned the hot corner well in Seattle for the past 5 years.

Chone Figgins
Image by via Flickr

At the plate they have produced similarly according to linear weights even though they succeed with different skill sets. However, due to those skill set differences, Figgins is certainly the better fit for the Mariners. Safeco Field is death to right handed power, thus, batters who hit the ball to right field well will take advantage of Safeco’s pitcher-friendly environment. Beltre has only one offensive tool: power to left field. As such, his home-road splits since signing with the Mariners in 2005 are eye-popping (.252/.305/.408 home, .278/.326/.472 away). Alternatively, Figgins is a spray-hitting on-base threat, and is not likely to see his park-neutralized numbers significantly depress.

On the defensive end, Beltre is the superior third baseman. His 13.1 UZR/150 over the last 4 years (552 games) is tops among third basemen over the last 4 years. Figgins hasn’t been an everyday third baseman for nearly as long but has ratcheted up a still very impressive 8.8 UZR/150 in a small sample size (358 games over 3 years). The defensive difference between the two is 0.5 to 1 WAR if both stay healthy. But where Figgins makes this up is in his versatility. Since he can play second base or the outfield as well,

he would give the Mariners a backup plan in left field if Michael Saunders needs more seasoning, and incumbent second baseman Jose Lopez would be even more

expendable. There’s even a remote possibility that Beltre would accept arbitration and the two could easily play in the same lineup together. If the M’s chose Beltre, they would often times be forced to play an inferior player at another position.

Another point to consider is that this isn’t an either/or situation, nor are Figgins and Beltre the only options. With the Phillies rumored to be the most appealing destination for a free agent third baseman at the beginning of the offseason and Placido Polanco quickly inking, the stock for Figgins’ services sank with his highest bidder out of the sweepstakes. Seattle was known to be pursuing Polanco, and it is no surprise they have zeroed in on other free agent infield options. Free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson, while inferior to Figgins, was once  speculated to be of more interest to Seattle. Hudson will require less money per year, less years of commitment, and because the Dodgers didn’t offer him arbitration, wouldn’t cost the Mariners the 18th pick in the 2010 Rule-4 draft. The WAR difference between Hudson and Figgins next year is likely around 1.5, and the dollars committed will certainly be in excess of $20 million, possibly $30 million. If the rumors are true, the Mariners apparently see the difference between Figgins and Hudson trumping their monetary differences. Nobody is anticipating Beltre to accept arbitration or choose Seattle as his free agent suitor, but neither is it it out of the question.

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