Before moving on to the Winter Meetings and long days filled with hot air inside the Indiana Convention Center, I’d like to offer a few words with respect to Chone Figgins, who is about to enrich the Seattle Mariners in so many ways.
First and foremost, I’ll miss our daily conversations about the game, especially in a historical context. Chone wanted to hear everything I had to offer about players from earlier eras, such as the acrobatic idol of his youth, Ozzie Smith. As someone who loves an attentive audience, I was always deeply appreciative of Figgins’ company.
Figgins is baseball’s version of a gym rat. Nobody works harder at improving himself. I actually would get on him now and then for pushing himself too hard, for taking too much batting practice. He’d grin and say, “That’s who I am. I love this.”
He keeps finding new ways to get better, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to add subtle new elements to his brilliant game. Watching Figgy and Ichiro together should be a real treat for those who love the inner game. Mariners fans should be pumped; there will not be a more exciting tandem in the game.
Figgins never can absorb enough information about the game. When he’s not working on improving himself, he’s watching the MLB Network or talking about the game with teammates, friends and family members. His mother knows what she’s talking about, and it shows in the bloodlines. Chone’s brother, Demetrius, has served as a respected scout for the Angels.
When Garret Anderson departed via free agency after the 2008 season on the heels of the departure of the third member of their inner circle, Casey Kotchman, I figured Figgins would be in the dumps. I was surprised to see how upbeat he was from the moment he arrived at camp in Arizona last spring. Before long, he’d developed a bond with Bobby Abreu, and the two clicked as if they’d been teammates for years.
This did nothing to diminish Figgins’ appreciation for Anderson, who’d meant so much to him. Chone still talked about GA all the time. But he didn’t let it cloud his impressions of the man who’d essentially arrived to replace his good buddy. Abreu had a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge, and Figgy soaked it in, raising his on-base percentage from a career .356 to .395 with a career year at 31. Through it all, Figgins praised Abreu for his daily influence.
How good a teammate is Figgins? He’d have agreed without complaint to move to the outfield if he’d been asked to do so to accommodate Brandon Wood at third — even though he’d made himself into a Gold Glove-level third baseman.
Wood — Woody in the clubhouse — now gets his shot, finally, to deliver on all that promise. He’ll tackle the challenge with relish – while remembering Figgins fondly.
“Sure, I want to play every day,” Wood said late in the season. “But look who’s ahead of me – Figgy at third and [Erick] Aybar at short? How can I expect to play ahead of those two guys? They’re great players.”
If the season started tomorrow, I’d expect to see Wood at third, with Maicer Izturis in reserve, backing up at all three positions he plays with the skill and poise of an everyday performer. Izturis can be a free agent after the coming season, and he’ll have the opportunity to go get an everyday job somewhere if he chooses that route. Baseball people know how good he is.
As painful as it is for fans to watch Figgins go, the Angels leave sentiment aside in their judgments. They calculated that they’ll be fine with a new look at third, and there is an undeniable element of excitement for fans in seeing what Wood can do with an everyday job.
He might not erupt as Kendry Morales did in ’09 when he finally got his chance, but Wood is capable of hitting 25-30 homers, driving in 80-100 runs (depending on where he hits in the order) and batting .275. Those who know him best – his Minor League teammates — fully expect him to flourish if he’s allowed to relax and unleash all that natural talent.
Like Anderson, Wood, I think, has been misinterpreted by some people as too cool, owing to his relaxed, easy manner. Believe me, having spent hours with the guy, I can assure you Wood burns to be successful, just as Garret has throughout his career. Hey, people used to think Henry Aaron was a cruiser, because of his laid-back style. He turned out all right.