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Art Thiel may be entertaining, but he's not always right.
The P-I's Art Thiel is an entertaining, old school kind of sports writer. The kind

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Art Thiel Can't Help But Sound Like a Cranky Old Man When Talking About Chone Figgins

thiel_art.jpg
Art Thiel may be entertaining, but he's not always right.
The P-I's Art Thiel is an entertaining, old school kind of sports writer. The kind of guy who'd be fun to sit next to at the bar. But man is he wrong about the Mariners signing of Chone Figgins. Says Thiel:
He's a good addition, but four years and $36 million to do a job already filled by Ichiro borders on the astonishing.

There's a reason the Figgins deal came together so quickly -- no other club was going where the Mariners went, including the Angels, who loved the guy.

The Mariners in 2010 will have about $29 million in salary tied up in two leadoff hitters, and have yet to hire someone to drive them in.

Let's break down where Thiel goes astray.

The premise of his argument is that in order to attract free agents Seattle has to overpay. In order to back this up, Thiel points to contracts given to Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson and now Figgins.

There's two problems with this. First, former GM Bill Bavasi is the one who signed Beltre (mostly worth it) and Sexson (definitely not). Figgins was inked by Jack Zduriencik. And he's definitely not overpaid.

As U.S.S. Mariner pointed out when the ink on the Figgins signing wasn't yet dry, $36 million is actually "a price below what you would generally expect to pay" for a guy with his skills. Not a bargain. But far from an "astonishing" overreach either.

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Another Ichiro? Great!
Arguing over the merits of Figgins contract is one thing. But Thiel really steps in it when he essentially says the Mariners signed another version of Ichiro.

Let it be known: Two Ichiros would be great. Hell, nine Ichiros would be fantastic.

Sure they wouldn't hit a lot of home runs. But Team Ichiro would almost never ground into a double play, would get on base at an above-average clip and would probably be the greatest defensive team of all time.

Thiel is right when he says that Figgins is like Ichiro. But they don't "do the same job."

The fact that Figgins can play third, second or left (and be an asset, not a liability, at each position) is the kind of flexibility that adds to his value. As to whether the Mariners now have too many lead-off hitters? Well, technically, the Yankees have the same "problem" (Johnny Damon led-off most of his career until he came to New York) and they seem to be managing pretty well.

This gets to the heart of Thiel's reasoning. He's a throwback.

Saying that you have two good lead-off hitters like it's a bad thing. Or saying that you've yet to sign the guys who'll drive them in speaks to a way of evaluating players that is all but extinct amongst MLB executives. (And where it still thrives, in places like Kansas City and formerly with Bavasi's Mariners, you don't often find winning teams.)

Thankfully, that perceived wisdom has been replaced by a new generation of GMs who put more faith in what can be measured, rather than what can be seen by the human eye. And, glory of all glories, Seattle has their very own version of that thinking in the form of Zduriencik. (Heretofore known as The Zenius for his masterful work in the trade that brought Cliff Lee to the Emerald City.)

It's not that the Mariners don't still need another bat. (We've argued essentially the same thing.) It's that they still need another bat despite signing Figgins, a good player who's getting paid about what he's worth.

 
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