The Chone Figgins era — a three-year period of unmet expectations, mutual frustration and lack of production — came to an end in Seattle on Tuesday night when the Mariners designated him for assignment.
It effectively ended a relationship with the 34-year old utilityman that resulted in nothing more than millions of dollars spent by the Mariners and very little in return from Figgins.
With 40-man rosters needing to be finalized by 9 p.m. and a few valuable prospects not on the 40-man roster who were at risk of being claimed by other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, the Mariners needed to create space.
Figgins was a necessary casualty.
“We had to make a decision to move on,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said via conference call Tuesday evening. “He’s been here for three years, and it didn’t work out like we hoped or he hoped.”
Because Figgins is still under contract for the 2013 season, the Mariners will pay him $8 million despite getting rid of him.
“I spoke to Chone a little while ago and wished him the best,” Zduriencik said. “He was very appreciative of his time here in Seattle. He understands it was time to turn the page and move forward.”
Figgins was Zduriencik’s first big free agent signing. It was a disaster almost from the start.
Figgins was coming off an impressive 2009 season with the Los Angeles Angels, hitting .298 with a .395 on-base percentage, 72 runs and 34 stolen bases. Zduriencik signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract to play third base and hit behind Ichiro Suzuki atop the lineup to give the Mariners a 1-2 speed punch.
Instead, Figgins never figured out how to hit behind Ichiro — or in a Mariners uniform. He struggled immediately, groused about being demoted in the batting order and got in a dugout altercation with then-manager Don Wakamatsu after being benched. He hit .235 in the first half of the 2010 season. He pushed his batting average to .259 by the end by hitting .286 in the second half, but still finished the season with a relatively low .340 on-base percentage and 114 strikeouts.
Hopes of a 2011 rebound diminished quickly. Figgins hit .214 in the first month of the season and saw his playing time steadily dwindle. By August, the Mariners had placed him on the disabled list and left him there.
The organization last season tried to salvage something from Figgins, naming him starting third baseman and moving him back to the leadoff spot — a place where he saw success with the Angels.
The move didn’t matter.
Figgins hit .209 with a .274 on-base percentage and 24 strikeouts in the first 23 games. He was supplanted by Kyle Seager at third base and never saw consistent playing time again. In the second half of the season, he appeared in 15 games and started seven.
Figgins appeared in 303 games for the Mariners over three seasons and hit .227 with a .290 on-base percentage.
How did it all go so very wrong? “Anybody out there’s guess would be as good as mine,” Zduriencik said. “At the time of the signing, it looked like it would be the right thing for all of us.”
Instead, Figgins became a symbol for the Mariners’ offensive ineptness, routinely drawing boos from dwindling Safeco Field crowds.
By the middle of last season, the consternation surrounding Figgins for being on the roster magnified. Some Mariners fans were ready for him to be removed from the team. The Mariners ownership kept him in hopes of salvaging something with a trade.
But it became apparent this offseason — like it was last season — Figgins had basically no value to other teams.
“I talked to many clubs and I had a lot of calls,” Zduriencik said. “There was some curiosity. But I didn’t have anyone say they would take him.”
The Mariners also made a minor trade Tuesday, sending outfielder Trayvon Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for infielder Robert Andino.
Zduriencik called it a “trade for need.” Andino, who can play second, third and shortstop, fills the need for a back-up utility player. He hit .211 with 41 runs, 13 doubles, seven home runs and 28 RBI in 127 games for Baltimore as a utility player.
Robinson played in 46 games – 39 starts – for the Mariners this past season, hitting .221 with 16 runs, three homers and 12 RBI.
The Mariners also designated for assignment outfielder Scott Cousins. Cousins, who was claimed off of waivers a few weeks ago, never put on a uniform.
With five open spots, the Mariners added five players to their 40-man roster: pitchers Anthony Fernandez, Brandon Maurer and Bobby LaFromboise, infielder Vinnie Catricala and outfielder Julio Morban.
The lefty LaFromboise was named the Tacoma Rainiers’ pitcher of the year, going 5-2 with four saves and a 1.59 ERA in 28 relief appearances. Maurer, a hard-throwing right-hander, was named the Southern League’s most outstanding pitcher and the Mariners’ most improved pitcher, after going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 24 starts with Double-A Jackson. He struck out 117 and walked 48 over 1372/3 innings. Fernandez, another lefty, went 6-8 with a 3.51 ERA in a combined 27 starts between in Class A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
Catricala earned Mariners minor league player of the year honors in 2011 after hitting .349 with 77 extra-base hits and 106 RBI between High Desert and Jackson. He spent this season with Tacoma and struggled, hitting .229 with 23 doubles and 10 home runs in 122 games for the Rainiers. The 20-year-old Morban hit .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBI in 76 games with High Desert. He played in 82 games, with three trips to the DL.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com