Mariners part ways with Figgins a year early
Cousins also designated; five players added to 40-man roster
SEATTLE -- With one season and $8 million still remaining on his four-year contract, the Mariners cut ties with Chone Figgins on Tuesday as the veteran infielder was designated for assignment as part of a series of roster moves.
Figgins, 34, hit just .181 in 66 games last season and had become a lightning rod for fans unhappy with the team's offensive struggles over the past few years.
"These decisions are driven by what a player does on the field and when you get to a point where he may no longer be part of this club going forward, you have to make a decision," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "He became an expendable piece and that's it. That's the end of the story."
The Mariners also designated outfielder Scott Cousins for assignment, just two weeks after claiming him off waivers from the Blue Jays.
The Mariners selected five Minor Leaguers to their Major League roster -- adding infielder Vinnie Catricala, outfielder Julio Morban and pitchers Anthony Fernandez, Bobby LaFromboise and Brandon Maurer -- as they finalized their 40-man roster prior to Tuesday night's deadline to protect players from next month's Rule 5 Draft.
Seattle's roster was at 37 players prior to the moves, so the club dropped Figgins and Cousins and added the five young prospects to reach the 40-man limit. They'll need to make further moves to create roster space if they add any players in free agency, trades or the Rule 5 Draft.
By designating Figgins for assignment, the team now has 10 days to trade, release or outright the veteran before he becomes a free agent. If he clears waivers and is not traded, he will be released, Zduriencik said.
The Mariners still are responsible for the final year on the $36 million deal Figgins signed as a free agent in 2010. There also is a $9 million vesting option for 2014 that would kick in with 600 plate appearances this coming season, but that option will be voided if he's released.
"I spoke to Chone a little while ago and wished him the best," Zduriencik said. "He was very gracious. Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way he thought or we thought, but it's time to turn the page and move forward."
Zduriencik said Figgins' situation wouldn't change his approach to future free agents, noting every team has moves that backfire. But why did this situation in particular not work out?
"It's hard to say," Zduriencik said. "Anybody's guess would be as good as mine. At the time of the signing, it looked like the right thing for all of us. He was excited about coming here and we thought it would be an interesting dimension with him and Ichiro. But it just never worked out and sometimes you have to make a decision and move on. And we did that today."
Figgins was coming off an All-Star season with the Angels in 2009 when he signed with Seattle, but he hit just .227 with a .302 on-base and .283 slugging percentage in 308 games with the Mariners, well below his career marks of .291/.363/.388 in eight seasons with the Angels.
The Georgia native batted .259 his first season in 2010 as Seattle's everyday second baseman, but that fell to .188 in 2011 when he was shifted to third base, and he lost his starting job midway through the season and finished up on the disabled list.
Manager Eric Wedge gave him another shot in Spring Training this past season, moving him back to his old leadoff role and shifting Ichiro Suzuki to third in the lineup. But Figgins again lost playing time several months into the season after another slow start.
Figgins started 38 games in the outfield last season for Seattle and just six at third base, where Kyle Seager established himself as one of the team's top young hitters.
There didn't appear to be much playing time in Figgins' future, given the addition of infielder Robert Andino in a trade with the Orioles on Tuesday, as well as what is expected to be a growing mix of outfielders as the team attempts to beef up its offense over the winter.
Zduriencik said he tried trading Figgins, but had no takers.
"I talked to many teams and made a lot of calls," he said. "There was some curiosity, if you will, but I didn't have anyone say they'd take him. Otherwise it wouldn't have got to this point."
Of the youngsters added to the 40-man roster, Catricala and Morban are the lone position players. Catricala is the top prospect in MLB.com rankings, at No. 8. He was the Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 after batting .349 in Class A and Double-A ball. He hit .229 for Triple-A Tacoma this past season with 10 home runs, and Zduriencik said he's looking for a bounce-back year from the young third baseman.
Morban, 20, hit .313 for Class A High Desert last season and "has a lot of upside," according to Zduriencik.
Maurer, 22, is the best known of the young hurlers added and "a guy we're really excited about," Zduriencik said. The right-hander was the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher after going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 24 starts for Double-A Jackson.
Fernandez, 22, was 6-8 with a 3.51 ERA in 27 starts between Class A High Desert and Jackson. LaFromboise, 26, had a breakout season as he posted a 6-2 record with a 1.36 ERA and .191 batting average against in 47 relief appearances for Jackson and Tacoma.
By adding those players now, they won't be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 6 at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Major League Baseball's deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft was Tuesday at 8:59 p.m. PT. Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five years or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four years.
Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.