Mailbag: Figgins, Morse, 2014, Tools

Five post-Thanksgiving questions for you this week, but a few of them are really short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Many asked: What about Chone Figgins?

The Mariners finally cut ties with Figgins earlier this week, tying a bow on one of the biggest free agent busts in baseball history. Seattle paid him $26M over the last three years to hit .277/.302/.283 (69 wRC+) in over 1,200 plate appearances (-0.9 fWAR and -1.6 bWAR), and they still owe him $8M next season. Just brutal.

Lots of people still view the 34-year-old Figgins as some kind of supersub, but he’s played primarily third base for the last six years while dabbling at second in the corner outfield (fewer than 500 innings). That’s it. He’s played 14 innings at shortstop in the last eight years and none in the last six years. He’s a third baseman who can fake second and left but rates no better than average anywhere. Figgins has just stopped hitting and it’s not just a Safeco Field thing, he’s got a 71 wRC+ on the road as a Mariner. I’d give him a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training and nothing more. If he doesn’t show signs of being useful in camp, just release him. Don’t even waste the Triple-A roster spot.

Joe asks: What do you think of Michael Morse? Nationals cold make him available if they sign Michael Bourn.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

I’m not much of a Morse fan but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player. The 30-year-old right-handed hitter has posted a .296/.345/.516 (133 wRC+) batting line with 67 homers in just shy of 1,300 plate appearances over the last three years, which is damn impressive. He never walks (5.7 BB% since 2010) and is very BABIP-reliant (.339), and when those guys go south, it tends to happen in a hurry. It’s not like Morse is old though, there’s no obvious reason he can’t keep up this kind of production for another few years.

The Nationals are reportedly looking to re-sign Adam LaRoche as well as add a long-term center fielder, and acquiring both would leave Morse without a defensive home. He’s owed $6.75M next year and will become a free agent after the season, so they should have no trouble trading him if they bring LaRoche back and sign Bourn or B.J. Upton or someone like that. Morse can obviously hit but he’s a terrible defensive player regardless of position, yet he would still make sense for New York since they need some pop to replace Nick Swisher. I really have no idea what the Nationals are looking for in a trade, I suppose just more pitching, which the Yankees don’t really have much to offer. I don’t love Morse but he would be a fit for the Yankees.

David asks: There has been a lot of talk about signing players this year to a one-year deals because of the $189 million dollar limit. How does that help them next year? Are the Yankees going to be in the same situation for the next two years or is there a few large contracts coming off the books?

By signing all these guys to one-year contracts, the Yankees are going to have to replace all of ’em next winter as well as Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Phil Hughes. That’s just scary. They’ll have to replace half the roster. Then again, they’ll also have the flexibility needed to get the payroll down. Still, having to potentially replace two outfielders, three starting pitchers, the second baseman, and various relievers/bench players all in one offseason will be very difficult to do. Not impossible, just difficult.

Tucker asks: When does the payroll in 2014 need to be below $189 million? Is it just the Opening Day payroll, or do the Yankees need to stay under that mark for the entire season?

They basically have to stay under the entire season. The luxury tax is based on the final club payroll, which includes everything paid to players from salary to performance bonuses to benefits. That includes pro-rated portions of salary paid to players called up, traded/acquired in the middle of the season, etc. The Yankees won’t be able to get under on Opening Day then add payroll, they’ll have to maintain it all year.

Anonymous asks: We always talk about the “five-tool player,” but it seems that when evaluating players we look for the following tools: Can he get on-base? Can he field his position? Can he hit for power? And can he run? In your opinion, are those the four most important tools and how would you rank them?

Yeah, I think those are my four most important skills (let’s not call them tools just to avoid confusion with the usual five-tool stuff). Getting on-base either through batting average or drawing walks or getting hit by pitches is the single most important thing a position player can do. It would be nice if a hitter did all three of those things, but those guys are rare. Not making outs at the plate is the easiest way a player can contribute to his team.

I’d rank hitting for power second ahead of defense just because I’m an offense-first guy. That doesn’t mean I’m cool with having a team of butchers out there, I certainly understand the important of turning batted balls into outs, but power is becoming harder to find these days and I value it more. The ability to run the bases — not necessarily speed, just the ability to be a smart base-runner and make good decisions — lags behind everything else for me. Health is also a skill to a certain extent and frankly I would rank that right before defense and ahead of running. A player isn’t any good to you if he’s hurt.

Sunday Trade Deadline Open Thread

The trade deadline is 4pm ET on Tuesday, and the Yankees will definitely be in the market for a fill-in third baseman with Alex Rodriguez on the DL with a broken bone in his hand. Pitching help — both rotation and bullpen — could also be a target, though they figure to be done looking for outfielders following the Ichiro Suzuki pickup. We’re going to keep track of any Yankees-related trade deadline rumors right here throughout the day, so check back often for updates. The latest stuff will be on the bottom…

  • Chase Headley is still an option for the Bombers, who could use him at third base while A-Rod is hurt and then potentially stick him in right field to replace Nick Swisher next season. The two sides have not exchanged names yet, and the Yankees worry the asking price will be too high [Ken Rosenthal & Joel Sherman]
  • The Yankees did try to acquire Marco Scutaro before he was traded to the Giants on Friday night. They wanted Colorado to foot a significant portion of the $2.25M left on his contract, but that wasn’t happening. [Jon Morosi & Sherman]
  • Rockies right-hander Rafael Betancourt is on the Yankees’ radar. He’s under contract for $4.25M next year and continues to post fantastic peripherals (2.88 FIP), though he’s one of the most fly ball prone pitchers in the game (career 29.6% grounders). You’re also going to pay a premium for a Proven Closerâ„¢ tag, so I prefer teammate Matt Belisle. [Troy Renck]
  • The Yankees have not been aggressive in their pursuit of Headley but they have inquired. Don’t expect them to part with much of anything for a stopgap third baseman. [Marc Carig]
  • Some other names that have popped up in the team’s third base search include Willie Bloomquist, Brendan Ryan, Yunel Escobar, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, Cody Ransom (!), Mark Reynolds, and Scott Rolen. Obviously some are more available and desirable than others. [Jon Heyman]

Mailbag: Chone Figgins as UTIL?

Patrick writes: Recently the Mariners have said that they would throw in cash in a deal that would rid them of Chone Figgins. Because he can play second, third, and some outfield, is Figgins worth anything at all or even a look at this point?

As the Yankee off-season progresses and their needs — few and far between — come into view, it’s clear that Brian Cashman will look to rebuild a bench that has been a source of strength for the Yanks lately. The club has Eduardo Nunez and his amusingly inept defense penciled in as well as Francisco Cervelli, but every spot is up for the grabs. The Yanks could use a power bat, another infielder, someone with thump, someone with speed.

Enter the idea of Chone Figgins. Once upon a time, Figgins was a semi-decent player for the Angels whose production never matched his reputation. In two playoff series against the Yanks, he was terrible, going just 6 for 44, but during the regular season, he managed to hit a respectable .298/.365/.393 against the Bombers in his career. Before departing Anaheim for northern climes, he was a versatile defender who spent time at third, second and in the outfield.

Yet after posting a 99 OPS+ in eight seasons with the Angels and signing a front-loaded four-year, $36-million contract with the Mariners, things have utterly fallen apart. In two years spanning over 1000 plate appearances, Figgins has hit .236/.309/.285 with a sub-par 71 percent stole base rate and 95 walks over two seasons. He hit it big after posting over 100 bases on balls in 2009, the first and only time he reached that plateau, and the Mariners were foolish enough to grant him an outsized deal for his ages 32-35 seasons.

In Seattle, Figgins is essentially persona non grata. Fans of the team have given up on him, and Seattle management has as well. According to a recent report, the Mariners would offer cash to any team willing to take Figgins, the two years and the $17 million he is owed off their hands. Get yer spare washed-up one-time middle infielders here! Just $5 million a season! It’s a bargain.

Of course, the problem with Figgins as a potential solution for any team is his recent sheer lack of success. He’s been flat-out awful lately, and while his 2011 was marred by a .214 BABIP, he wasn’t particularly good in 2010 with a .314 BABIP. It’s not unexpected to see guys of his offensive profile out of the game by their age 34 season; it’s happened to players better than him. So he enters the final two years of the contract with a giant question mark surrounding his status. The Mariners must pay him, but can they turn him into anything useful?

For the Yanks to even take a chance on Figgins, the price would essentially have to be nothing. The Mariners could pay half his money and offer him up as a potential reclamation project. For just $4 million a year, try to tease something useful out of the ghost of Chone Figgins. To make it worthwhile, the Yanks would have to be satisfied with the answer to one question: Is Figgins $3.5 million better than Eduardo Nunez?

As much as I am skeptical of Nunez’s long-term viability, the answer is likely not. Nunez hit a lackluster .265/.313/.385 in far too many plate appearances — 338 to be exact — and he made 27 errors at short, second and third. But Nunez has youth and money on his side. He’ll be playing his age 25 season in 2012 and will make under $500,000. The Yanks once thought highly enough of him to keep him out of some high-profile trade talks so the club won’t just throw in the towel. Unless someone truly superior lands in the Yanks’ lap, Nunez, with his versatile as shaky as it may be, will be their guy.

As a non-roster invitee searching for a team, Figgins could be worth a look. But until the Mariners decide to cut their losses, he’s just a shell of a player who would have been a fine super utility guy four or five years ago. His days are likely over.

Rosenthal: Mariners set to sign Figgins

Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Mariners are on the verge of signing Chone Figgins for four years in the “$36 million range.” Figgins will replace free agent Adrian Beltre at third base. At some point over the winter, Figgins was vaguely linked to the Yanks as a left field replacement for Johnny Damon despite the fact that he had barely played the outfield over the last few years. That option is now clearly off the table.

For the Mariners, this isn’t a terrible deal. They have a dangerous speed combination of Ichiro and Figgins atop their lineup. I believe, however, that a four-year deal for a 32-year-old who relies on his legs is a bit of a risk. At around $9 million a season, though, the money is right. Seattle is still rumored to be interested in a big bat to drive home the speedsters when they get on base.