Nightmare on Royal Brougham: The Chone Figgins Story

*Seattle – 2027*

A young Mariners fan carefully flips through a binder of his father’s old baseball cards as a thunderstorm rages outside their home in the shadows of Safeco Field. The boy smiles as he finds cards of Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, players his dad cheered for in the halcyon days of baseball in the city and still speaks of fondly.

Those days are just a fairy tale to the boy who has never witnessed a winning season from the M’s in his lifetime. He sighs and continues to browse the cards for a sign that things might get better — for him and his beloved team — but finds none.

He starts to put the binder back in his father’s desk when curiosity gets the best of him. In the bottom of the desk is a binder covered in strange characters that reeks of pine tar and chewing tobacco. His father made the boy promise never to open the book, but what could one little look hurt? He glances to the next room to see if his father is watching before opening the binder…

The thunder rolls ominously in the distance as he stares at the lone card in the page. A chill runs up his spine as he reads the name of the strange creature with the beady eyes on the card. C-H-O-N-E…

“Dad, what’s a Chone Figgins,” the frightened boy asks.

A flash of lightning illuminates the man’s face in the adjoining room. His jaw is clenched and his hands are balled in fists at his side. He knew the time had come, that the boy was ready to know the truth, no matter how painful it was for him to recall. He takes a long swig from the bottle of whiskey he has been nursing all day and collects his thoughts.

“A Chone Figgins is a tiny, evil little goblin that haunts cursed baseball teams like the Mariners. It constantly complains and blames other people for its failures. It sticks around for years and costs millions of dollars to get rid of. It is evil incarnate.”

The boys furrows his brow. “Why would God make something like that?”

He wished the boy’s mother, Diane, was still there to help with big questions like this. He had never been able to deal with emotional issues. Maybe that’s why she left him and married Keith. Man he hated Keith.

“I don’t know son. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I just don’t know.”

The man takes another sip of whiskey and disappears into his thoughts. Why hadn’t he just thrown that dirty old binder away?

“We don’t have to worry about the Chone Figgins anymore…do we dad?”

The son’s words unleash a flood of deeply repressed memories to the father. His mind races back to that dreadful day so many years ago. He sees himself driving the wooden stake deep into the heart of the creature and remembers the terrible noise it made as it died and crumbled to ash. The father remembered the eyes. THOSE EYES. He didn’t know if it was fear or relief he saw in the waning seconds of the creature’s life, but he knew he would never be able to forget it. He also knew that he could never be forgiven for what he had done, but his son would never have to live in fear of Chone Figgins, and neither would the rest of his tortured city.

His thoughts return to the present and he realizes that his knuckles have turned white from squeezing the empty bottle of alcohol in his hands. He throws the bottle away and grabs two cans of Pepsi out of the fridge, handing one to his son.

“No. We don’t have to worry anymore.”

The boy breathes a sigh of relief and puts the binder away. “Can we turn on the game dad? It’s the season opener.”

“Sure thing kiddo.”

The two bask in the glow of the T.V. as Seattle’s leadoff hitter, a spindly rookie making his first big league start, lines a single into left field. Rain continues to fall on their roof, but suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so dark outside.

“Maybe this will be the Mariners year, huh dad?”

“Yeah,” the father smiles, “maybe it will be.”

Never again.

Never again.

 

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Mariners Monthly Roundup: August “Mediocrity Reigns” Edition.

 

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of yea-hoos, Ichiro has continued his indomitable march towards history.

Record: 12-14 (Overall 51-80)       

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle       

Top Hitter: After slumping below .250 in July, Ichiro rebounded to post a .307 average in August including a two home run game at Yankee Stadium (they were against Javier Vasquez however, so they don’t really count). Though Ichiro’s had a down season by his standards (on pace for career lows in HR’s, runs, triples and his second lowest OPS) the Mariners top-of-the-order mainstay is still on pace for a record 10th straight 200 hit season. In a season so wrought with disappointment, it’s nice to have someone to look forward to. Bless you Ichiro. Bless you.  

Top Pitcher: Who’d you think it was gonna be, Sean White? Felix Hernandez continued a dominant season with his best month of the year, posting a 3-2 record with 0.82 ERA, .137 batting average against and 51 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. Despite suffering through some of the worst run support in baseball, King Felix has planted himself firmly in the Cy Young discussion by ranking 1st in innings, 2nd in ERA, 1st in K’s, 4th in WHIP and 3rd in complete games. Felix’s value to this team can’t be overstated–without him they would be utterly unwatchable. As is they’re just mostly unwatchable…  

Biggest Surprise:  Brandon League arrived in Seattle during the offseason in a controversial trade that sent talented but erratic starting pitcher Brandon Morrow to Toronto. The hard-throwing Hawaiian was supposed to be one of the best set-up men in all of baseball, but in the first half of the season he posted a 3.86 ERA and was responsible for many of the Mariners’ most painful defeats (“Oh, we’ve got a three run lead? I guess I’ll walk the bases loaded and then cough up a gopher ball). Since the All-Star break though, League has been in the zone, including August where he posted a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. I’m not saying it was a good idea to trade Brandon Morrow, but it is nice to know that we weren’t entirely fleeced. Right? Right?  

Biggest Disappointment: Jose Lopez brings less to the table than Bob Cratchit. Why the Mariners are still giving at-bats to someone with a .605 OPS is beyond me, because Lopez has been a black hole all season long. There’s little doubt that he’ll be gone at the end of the season; why wait till then to give Matt Mangini or Matt Tuiasosopo a chance?  

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis–underwent surgery August 17th); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation–appears headed for Tommy John surgery); Jack Wilson (out for season–hand surgery).  

Lingering Questions: If the Mariners win a game, and no one is watching, does it still count? Can Felix win a Cy Young with a losing record? Adam Moore can’t possibly be as bad as Rob Johnson, can he? What medication should I take for Mariners’ Season(al) Depression? 

September Schedule: 1 vs. Los Angeles, 4 vs. Cleveland, 3 @ Oakland, 3 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Boston, 3 vs. Texas, 3 @ Toronto, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 3 @ Texas, 1 vs. Oakland.  

Overall Grade: (C+) With new manager Darren Brown at the helm the Mariners weren’t completely awful in August, winning four series in a row before sputtering at the end of the month. Still, while the offense was marginally better than it had been, it was still the worst in baseball and made me question why I even bother to watch the M’s play.

Dave Niehaus, that’s why.

Outrageous, Egregious, Preposterous: Citing Lack of Run Support, Felix Hernandez Hires Jackie Chiles, Sues Seattle Mariners.

After the latest in a string of painful defeats in which his teammates failed in every imaginable way to support yet another fine pitching effort, Felix Hernandez finally decided that he couldn’t stay quiet any longer, and got on the phone with his lawyer Jackie Chiles.

Losing is one thing, but the way Felix Hernandez has accumulated his 10 losses this season is something else altogether. In those 10 soul-crushing defeats, Hernandez’s teammates have managed to push across a measly seven runs with the King on the hill,  leading to the second worst run support in the league behind only Dallas Braden (but nobody likes him, so he doesn’t count). Does Felix have every right to be furious with his teammates? You’re damn right he does, and bringing aboard a winner like Jackie Chiles is the only chance Hernandez has to receive the credit, and cash, that he deserves.

Although best known for his work on Kramer v. Marlboro and The People v. Seinfeld, Chiles is an accomplished sports attorney and agent who has represented the likes of Keith Hernandez and Bernie Williams. Chiles called Hernandez’s suit an open and shut case, telling reporters at his office that:

Despite a sterling 2.62 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 172 strikeouts, my client only has eight wins to his name, in large part due to poor decisions from the Seattle front office and poor performance from nearly every offensive player on the team. When Felix signed a long-term contract to stay with the Mariners he was under the impression that the organization was building a team that would compete for a World Series, not the worst record in baseball. With certain escalator clauses in his contract that are triggered by All-Star appearances, Cy Young awards and trips to the playoffs, it has become obvious that the Mariners organization is trying to avoid paying my client these bonuses by putting an inferior product on the field behind him (.236 team batting average). Felix leads the league in quality starts and he has eight wins to show for it. Outrageous! Egregious! Preposterous!”

The Mariners front office refused to comment on the lawsuit, but several unnamed players agreed that, yeah, Felix was going to get paid. One player even went as far as to say that he would be willing to give up part of his wholly undeserved salary (cough Chone Figgins cough) in order to keep Hernandez happy and the case out of court.

Judging from Chiles track record though, Hernandez isn’t likely to settle with the M’s, and who can blame him?

He’s finally got a chance at a win…

Wak Blocked: Mariners Fire Second-Year Manager Don Wakamatsu; Admit That Season Isn’t Exactly Going As Planned.

Though Wakamatsu took the fall, no one in the organization is without blame.

Though the writing had been on the wall for months, yesterday’s firing of manager Don Wakamatsu still came as a surprise from an organization that had come to reward mediocrity over the last decade.  

With the team in a free fall and showing no signs of improvement, GM Jack Zduriencik decided that Wakamatsu was no longer the right man for the job, and showed his hand-picked manager the door.  

The Mariners entered Monday night with a record of 42-70, the third worst in baseball, after a busy offseason that brought hope of a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. With virtually every player on the team underperforming Wakamatsu never really had a chance to succeed (it is a Seattle sports team after all). Wakamastu wasn’t without blame though;  his questionable handling of the bullpen and inability to get maximum effort out of the team made the lame duck manager a perfect scapegoat for the M’s numerous shortcomings.  

Triple-A manager Darren “Aw Shucks” Brown will replace Wakamatsu for the remainder of the season, though with the current squad, he’s probably not expected to do anything more than shake out the roster and try to figure out which pieces hold value moving into 2011 (so long Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Rob Johnson, etc). It would behoove Brown to manage with a bit more evident passion than Wakamatsu, whose Zen-like persona made him appear like an apathetic captain at the helm of a sinking ship.  

It’s unfortunate that a classy manager like Wakamatsu had to be fired after just two seasons because of poor front office decisions, but it was apparent from his run-ins with Ken Griffey Jr., Milton Bradley, Michael Lohan and Chone Figgins that he no longer had the respect of his players. 

He’s not the only one whose lost respect this season–Seattle’s front office and ownership are also on thin ice with M’s fans after putting one of the sorriest teams on the field in the organization’s storied history. 

If more changes aren’t made soon, Wakamatsu won’t be the only one looking for work this offseason…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: July “From Bad to Worse” Edition.

Michael Saunders is one of the few sources of hope in a dismal season.

Record: 6-22 (Overall 39-66)     

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle     

Top Hitter: With virtually the whole team slumping in the month it wasn’t difficult for second-year outfielder Michael Saunders to walk away as the best hitter in July. The 23-year-old began to show the potential that made him one of the Mariners most highly regarded prospects, hitting .279 with one HR and 6 RBI’s in the month. More importantly, Saunders flashed improved plate discipline with a 16/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a .380 OBP. He’s shown himself to be an above-average defensive player and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, Saunders should be a major part of Seattle’s rebuilding effort moving forward.     

Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez picked up right where Cliff Lee left off in June, although thanks to an anemic Mariners’ offense, the King only won a single game in July despite a 2.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Besides Erik Bedard Luke French Ryan Rowland-Smith Justin Vargas, Felix is the only sure thing on the Mariners’ staff right now, and the team will have plenty of holes to fill heading into 2010. This team would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of King Felix.  

Biggest Surprise: Left for dead with the acquisitions of Justin Smoak and Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman finally decided it was time to play like a big leaguer, hitting .318 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in the month. With Smoak currently in Triple-A and Branyan manning DH duties, Kotchman should see some significant playing time moving forward. He’s not part of the team’s future, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to play for another team–preferably in the division.    

Biggest Disappointment: Every player on the team not named Felix Hernandez. Also, I wish that Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins’ fight had escalated in a full-blown dugout brawl with Rob Johnson’s leg getting broken in the scrum. It’s little things like that which help keep interest up in a long season. And it’s been a loooooooooong season…   

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation); Ryan-Rowland Smith (15-day DL–overall awfulness–set to meet with Men at Work on Monday).   

Lingering Questions: Will the Mariners finish with the worst record in baseball? Will Ichiro be the only Mariner to finish the season hitting over .250? How long before the pitchers and hitters engage in a bloody civil war? Why do I keep watching if they bring me nothing but pain? Can Adam Moore possibly be worse than Rob Johnson? Should fans start showing up at the games with bags on their heads? 

August Schedule: 1 @ Minnesota; 3 vs. Texas; 3 vs. Kansas City; 3 vs. Oakland; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ New York; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs. Minnesota; 2 vs. Los Angeles.     

Overall Grade: (F) I’m out of words to describe the abomination that is the Mariners, so this picture will have to do.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: May “It’s Like Watching a Loved One Slowly Pass Away” Edition

Someone made Mike Sweeney mad and pitchers all over baseball are paying the price in a big way.

Record: 8-19  (Overall 19-31) 

AL West Standings: Oakland, Texas, Los Angeles………….Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro has done his part all year to get the Mariners’ offense started but the team has been unable to cash in on the opportunities when he reaches base. Suzuki was as consistent as ever in May, hitting .336 with one HR, 7 RBI’s and 7 SB’s (but only 10 runs scored). At 36-years-old, Ichiro has shown no signs of slowing down, and gives M’s fans something to look forward to (a 10th straight 200-hit season) in an otherwise dismal year. 

Top Pitcher:  Hopefully Mariners’ fans enjoyed watching Cliff Lee pitch in May because it’s doubtful that the crafty lefty will be in Seattle much longer. In his first full month with the team Lee went 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts against only 3 walks. Not only did the Mariners slow start eliminate them from playoff contention, but it also probably eliminated whatever small chance they had of resigning Lee after the season. Thanks Seattle. Thanks a lot.

Biggest Surprise: Mike “the Bat” Sweeney awoke from an early season slumber with a vengeance in May (.310-6 HR’s-14 RBI’s) providing fans with a bevy of souvenirs in the outfield stands and injecting some much-needed life into the Mariners’ lineup. Unfortunately, the Mariners’ best hitter is on the wrong side of 40, and had to miss numerous games due to a bad back (apparently it was “barking” at him. Is that an actual medical condition? Because I’ve never heard about it on Grey’s Anatomy. Is there a doctor in the building?) Can we catch a break? Just one, that’s all I ask for. Let Sweeney use steroids and not get caught, he’s just using them to help keep him on the field…I promise. 

Biggest Disappointment: Chone Figgins was supposed to be the spark plug that helped Seattle’s offense get to the next level and give the Mariners’ tremendous pitching staff some run support. Two months through the season Figgins is hitting just .211 and is on pace for over 150 strikeouts, which would be okay if he was going to hit 45 home runs but he is currently sitting on zero, so 45 seems a bit bullish…just a little.

Chone Figgins' poor play has been a major factor in the Mariners terrible start.

Griffey Watch: May 2010 is a month that Ken Griffey Jr. can’t forget soon enough. He made national headlines with “napgate”, was rumored to be on the verge of being released by Seattle and looked like a dinosaur at the plate (.122-0 HR’s-3 RBI’s). No matter how much he brings to the clubhouse, the Griffey experiment part 2 has been an unmitigated disaster. Let’s hope he hits one last home run and rides peacefully off into the sunset. 

Home Run Tracker: After hitting just nine home runs in the season’s first month the M’s exploded for 20 in May, which sadly, stills leave them last in all of baseball.

Happy Trails: Struggling relievers Kanekoa Teixeira and Jesus Colome were both designated for assignment after an implosion against the Angels that cost the Mariners a chance at a rare victory. I don’t think they’ll be sorely missed…or at all. 

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–return looking increasingly unlikely–shocker); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Josh Bard (strained calf, 15-day DL); Adam Moore (heel, 15-day DL); Jack Wilson (hamstring strain, 15-day DL–early June return). 

Lingering Questions: How many games does Seattle have to fall behind in the division before the team starts shopping Cliff Lee? Why didn’t someone get Griffey a coffee or 5-hour energy? Will King Felix regain the form that made him dominant in 2009? Did Carlos Silva really strike out 11 batters in a game? Will Chone Figgins really hit .200 all season? Is Don Wakamatsu on the hot seat? 

June Schedule: 3 vs. Minnesota, 3 vs. L.A., 4 @ Texas, 3 @ San Diego, 3 @ St. Louis, 3 vs. Cincinnati, 3 vs. Chicago (NL), 3 @Milwaukee, 2 @ New York 

Overall Grade: (F-)  The Mariners were simply awful in May. They can’t hit, they can’t field and they can’t run the bases. On the rare occasion when they do those things, and have a lead, the bullpen implodes and Seattle loses in the most painful ways possible. The Mariners are the most disappointing team in all of baseball and 2011 can’t get here soon enough. I’ve got to find something else to do this summer. Suggestions?

Seattle Continues Busy Offseason: Carlos Silva Traded to Cubs for Milton Bradley.

How will Milton Bradley's temperament fit in with the Mariners' good mojo?

In what is becoming almost a daily occurence in the Emerald City, the Seattle Mariners have acquired yet another player in hopes of capturing the AL West in 2010, though this deal is anything but a sure thing. According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Mariners have finalized a trade that will send pitcher Carlos Silva to the Chicago Cubs in return for outfielder Milton Bradley. Both players had long since worn out their welcomes in Seattle and Chicago respectively, and with each being slated to make around $25 million dollars over the next two years, this trade was the only real option for two teams looking to get rid of their constant source of headaches.

The Carlos Silva experiment was an absolute disaster for the Mariners. After signing a four-year/$48 million dollar contract in 2007 (a move which was widely mocked throughout the league) Silva went 5-18 over the past two seasons, including a 1-3 mark with an ungodly 8.60 ERA in 2009. In fact, about the only positive thing Silva accomplished during his time in Seattle was getting hurt last season, allowing the Mariners to develop young arms in their rotation. One of the last painful reminders of the Bill Bavasi era in Seattle, the fact that the Mariners were able to get anything for Silva is a miracle, and while Bradley does come with his baggage, he also offers tremendous upside at the plate.

It didn’t take long for the Cubs to figure out that Bradley wasn’t a good fit for them. In fact, it didn’t even take a full season (he was suspended on September 20th). Plagued by injuries throughout the year and serving as a constant distraction to the team with his outbursts and tirades, Chicago was dead-set on moving Bradley this offseason but couldn’t find any suitors other than the Mariners. Signed to play in the outfield last year, Bradley struggled defensively and only hit .257 with 12 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. Still, his keen batting eye allowed him to post a .378 OBP (which would have been second on the M’s last season), and Bradley has constantly shown himself to be an adept hitter—when he’s healthy and happy. Long regarded as a clubhouse cancer, Bradley seems to create controversey wherever he plays, and may prove to be more trouble than he is worth for Seattle if they can’t find a way to keep him under control.

The Mariners needed to find a designated hitter after the news that one of their primary targets, Nick Johnson, planned to sign with the New York Yankees. Keeping Bradley off the field will help neutralize the risk for an injury, but will his disruptive presence ruin a clubhouse that was one of the best in all of baseball last season? Seattle is gambling that veterans like Ken Griffey Jr. and manager Don Wakamatsu’s zen-like personality will be able to keep Bradley in line, and if that works, they’ve acquired a top-flight hitter who will be a welcome addition to their lineup. There’s no debating Bradley’s talent (career .371 OBP) but his off the field problems are a very real issue. Jack Zduriencik has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt thus far, and Mariners’ fans hope that Bradley will be a key factor in the team returning to the playoffs…and not just Carl Everett part two.