Shades of McLemore in Figgins
Players, coaches remark on shared versatilty of both players
INDIANAPOLIS -- For baseball fans in Seattle, the addition of Chone Figgins has a familiar and slightly upgraded look and feel, like a new operating system installed to make the Mariners' machine run more smoothly and effectively.
It's an appropriate title since the versatile Figgins, who officially came aboard Tuesday evening by signing a four-year, $36 million deal, gives Seattle its first true everyday, multi-purpose player since Mark "Mac" McLemore became a fan favorite from 2000-'03.
"It's a perfect fit," McLemore said from his home in Texas. "He's going to love Seattle, and those fans are going to love him. They're really going to appreciate the way he plays the game. He's ready to play every day."
McLemore was knows the feeling, particularly during the Mariners' watershed, record-setting 116-win season in 2001. The then-36-year-old stole 39 bases, drove in 57 runs, drew 69 walks, batted .286, logged a .384 on-base percentage and a career-high .790 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
But even more valuable to then-manager Lou Piniella and the Mariners was McLemore's ability to shift around defensively. McLemore played 68 games in the outfield, covering all three positions, plus 36 at third base, 35 at shortstop, nine at second base and two at designated hitter. He did it all with aplomb.
Figgins, 31, has been doing the same for the Angels since he came up in late 2002, and in many ways he's taken McLemore's type of game to new heights.
Even though Figgins has been the Angels' primary third baseman for the past three seasons, he also has started games in the outfield, second base, shortstop and DH, and he's become a better offensive player as he's matured. In 2009, he achieved career-best numbers in runs scored (114), walks (an American League-leading 101), doubles (30) and OBP (.395) as the leadoff man of the defending AL West champions and a first-time All-Star who finished in the top 10 in MVP voting.
With the Mariners still trying to bring back free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, it's possible that Figgins could end up playing second in 2010, which would force the team to either trade Jose Lopez or move him to first base. If Beltre signs elsewhere, Figgins will have the hot corner all to himself.
"He's doing an outstanding job," says McLemore, who added that he has had quite a few conversations with Figgins over the years about how to prepare for and flourish in the ever-changing role. "Even better than I did."
Former Mariners and current Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he noticed the Figgins signing and immediately thought of McLemore.
"Any time you have a guy so good at playing multiple positions, it's really a manager's dream," Piniella said. "We had that with Mac and the Mariners have it with Figgins now. Figgins is an excellent, excellent leadoff hitter and he does a lot of things offensively. When you throw in the fact that the home run isn't as prevalent as it used to be, his athleticism, his on-base percentage, his ability to go from first to third, those are the things that make an offense go.
"Mac was more experienced than Figgins when we had him, but what he did was amazing. Versatility is very important."
Starter Aaron Sele, who was McLemore's teammate in Seattle in 2001 and Figgins' teammate in Anaheim on the World Series championship team in 2002, also sees a lot of similarities in the two players.
"Figgy and Mac both have the ability to play several positions in the field, but as quality starting players and not necessarily backups," Sele said. "It's a rare find in the game."
McLemore, who now does pre- and postgame TV for the Rangers, said he likes watching Figgins play because, "he's the closest thing to me that I've seen."
"The big thing for me was not being a liability defensively," McLemore says. "I wasn't, and neither is he. And if you show the fans that you're a team player, they appreciate that. That's why they'll love him there.
"He's just a great ballplayer. I would have loved the opportunity to play with him."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.