Over a six-year stretch ending in 2009, Chone Figgins -- who will be competing for a bench job on the Dodgers this spring -- was one of the best leadoff hitters and most versatile players in baseball.
He averaged 632 plate appearances while playing every position other than pitcher, first base and catcher. He batted .292, got on base at a .362 rate and averaged 44 stolen bases.
He was, quietly, one of the most valuable players on some highly competitive Angels teams.
But free agency arrived and the Angels wouldn’t match a four-year, $36 million deal to join the Seattle Mariners, where the plan was to use him as their everyday second baseman. That’s when the bottom fell out, for absolutely no apparent reason.
In his age 32 through 34 seasons with the Mariners, hardly typical steep-decline years, Figgins batted .227, had a .302 on-base percentage and averaged 19 stolen bases. By the second year of the deal, his playing time had been cut in half. Deep into the third year, he practically never got off the bench. He was released by the Mariners after the 2012 season, though they still owed him $8 million, and signed in spring training with the Miami Marlins, who released him six weeks later.
He was out of baseball in 2013.
What happened to a man Angels manager Mike Scioscia used to refer to as a “super-utility player,” a hybrid who could play capably at multiple positions with a good enough bat to stay in the lineup every day?
Oddly, there are no major injuries to point to. No personal difficulties have become public that could explain Figgins’ sudden nosedive in performance. Was it the pressure of living up to a multi-year contract on a new team? Figgins’ post-season resume -- a .172 average, high strikeout rate, some poorly timed defensive mistakes -- suggest it has been an issue, but it hardly seems encompassing enough to explain the sudden turn.
Maybe the air of Southern California can cure whatever ailed Figgins.
If Figgins can summon the spirit of ’09, the minor-league deal he worked out with the Dodgers could be the fine-print move of the Dodgers’ off-season. He is -- or, perhaps, was -- exactly what the Dodgers need, a capable glove at multiple positions, including third base and second base. If he plays well this spring, he could even keep second base warm while Alexander Guerrero is learning the nuances at Triple-A.
He is well above-average at third base and decent enough everywhere else to merit some time. He is both faster and a better fielder than the other veteran player the Dodgers are considering for their bench, Michael Young. He is a switch hitter, though he’s far better from the left side. Unlike every other current player on the Dodgers bench, he is used to changing positions on a daily basis.
According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Figgins ran the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds at a recent tryout in front of 10 teams and showed enough with his bat and glove to garner some interest from teams. Obviously, the Dodgers’ interest was the most persistent, probably because of their needs.
If it works out, Figgins plugs some holes and shows he can still play. If it doesn't, the Dodgers cut him in camp and he either latches on with another team, agrees to bide his time at Triple-A (unlikely) or retires. All in all, it's a low-risk move and a decent flyer.