Figgins out to recapture magic of Angels days
In camp with Dodgers, versatile vet hoping to rekindle baseball career
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What happened to Chone Figgins? How does a player go almost overnight from invaluable to invisible? Put it in the files of unsolved baseball mysteries.
"I can't tell you what went on in Seattle," said Mike Scioscia, Figgins' manager with the Angels. "But I can tell you this: Figgy was such a big part of what we did in those years [2002-09]. Not only was he a complete player; he didn't care what position he played and he didn't care where he hit in the lineup.
"The fearless drive in the way he played the game was very important to us. I think he can still play."
Figgins, alighting in Dodgers camp with a Minor League contract and a big league resume, hopes Scioscia's original organization in Los Angeles draws the same conclusion.
During his final season with the Angels in 2009, Figgins was judged the fifth most productive position player in Major League Baseball by the statistical machinery of baseball-reference.com. His 7.7 WAR [Wins Above Replacement] placed him between Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez. Nice company.
As he goes about his business now bidding for a job -- any job -- Figgins wistfully recalls a wondrous 2009 for the American League West champions. He scored 114 runs, led the league with 101 walks and hit .298 with a .395 on-base percentage, while playing a superb third base.
"We had a great team," he said. "It was a great time."
Around midseason, then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland was moved to rhapsodize over the Angels' catalyst who received AL Most Valuable Player votes in four seasons.
"I think Chone Figgins is one of the most valuable players in the league," Leyland said. "He's a catalyst, can play all over, plays good wherever you put him. I think he's one of those guys that every manager would love to have on his team. This guy makes a lot of things happen.
"He has fun playing; he loves the game. You can see it. He's actually fun, even for an opposing manager, even though he's been a pain in the [posterior] for us. He's got a passion to be real good. His numbers aren't going to be MVP numbers; I'm talking about for a team, he's really a tremendous asset to an organization."
Signing a free-agent contract that winter with Seattle, Figgins had one decent season and then was lost in the Pacific Northwest. After three seasons with the Mariners, they parted ways in the winter of 2012. Signed by the Marlins in February 2013, he was released six weeks later -- even though he hit .308 in the Grapefruit League, playing a variety of positions.
He went home, continued to work out and took a vacation to Chile, his wife's native country. He kept waiting for the call that never came.
"It was a lost season for me," Figgins said. "Nobody got hurt, and nobody called me."
Asked about his trials and tribulations in Seattle, Figgins wearily shook his head.
"It was like they wanted me to be a different player than who I was," he said. "I allowed it to happen, to change the way I played the game."
His all-out aggression eventually regressed into submission. The fire that burned so brightly in Southern California left him. Now, he hopes to return to the scene of his growth and development. Characteristically, he's the first guy to arrive at the Dodgers' Camelback Ranch facility -- showing up by 6 a.m. -- and among the last to leave.
At 36, Figgins has resurfaced in Dodger Blue with a resolve to resurrect his career as an all-purpose sub, if not a regular. He has capably handled six positions -- excluding pitcher, catcher and first base -- in 11 Major League seasons.
"If you need somebody to move around and do different things," Figgins said, "there's nobody better than me doing that. I can still run and throw and hit. I have to go back to when I proved to the Angels what I could do. I'm still the same person with a passion for the game."
A .277 career hitter who had 17 triples in 2004 and led the league with 62 steals in 2005, he batted .188 and .181 as a part-timer in his final two seasons in Seattle, as his reputation took a severe hit.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly assured Figgins before he signed that he had a realistic shot at making the club. Mattingly remembers him as a "speed guy who was aggressive and smart and could play all over."
The Dodgers are set everywhere but at second base, where Cuban import Alexander Guerrero, a natural shortstop, is a promising but unknown athlete known for his bat. Mark Ellis, who handled the job capably the past two seasons, signed with St. Louis.
Joining Figgins in pursuit of roles are fellow veterans Brendan Harris and Justin Turner, along with Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers and Miguel Rojas. Opportunity is knocking with the departures of backups Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr.
Figgins, a switch-hitter with uncommon speed and quickness and a surprisingly strong arm given his 5-foot-8 stature, has excelled at third and in center field, enhancing his profile.
He brought four different gloves to camp and has worn out his bats in the cage. As an Angel, Figgins was dedicated to honing his skills, making his struggles in Seattle all the more baffling.
Surprised by his move from third to second base during Spring Training -- and from first to second in the batting order to accommodate Ichiro Suzuki -- he was not the same dynamic player in 2010. But he wasn't terrible.
Hitting .259 with a .340 OBP, Figgins stole 42 bases, matching his 2009 total. After spending years getting comfortable and finally flourishing at third, the shift to second seemed unsettling. He had never played more than 54 games in a season there, but he was at second for 161 games in 2010.
Rookie Dustin Ackley displaced him at second in 2011, and Figgins fell into an offensive funk from which he did not recover.
"Baseball is a humbling game," he said. "You always hear that, and it's the truth."
Figgins has had enough of being humbled. He feels it's time to turn back the clock and show he still has the right stuff to help a Major League team -- the Dodgers -- win games and influence pennant races.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.