Lou Piniella has a Need for Speed

As the Sun-Times pointed out on Monday morning, it appears the Cubs new mission in the off-season will be to add speed to a station-to-station lineup. After spending last winter overly committed to becoming more left handed and tearing apart a 97-win team, Lou Piniella would like to add players that can run to a team that is last in the NL this year in stolen bases … and the one name that has already popped up in the rumor mill, Chone Figgins.

The Cubs have had rumored interest in the Angels’ primary third baseman for the last two winters. Reportedly there were conversations between the two teams that started and ended when the Angels asked for Aramis Ramirez in return. With Brian Roberts signing a long-term deal in Baltimore (four-year extension signed in February of 2009 worth $40 million) there are very few legitimate leadoff hitters on the market … and Chone Figgins is one of them, a player that will be coveted by both Chicago teams this winter. Before delving further into the Chone Figgins rumor, the first thing that must happen as quickly as possible is for The Ricketts Family to gain control of the Chicago Cubs. Until the Ricketts have ‘the keys to the front door‘ and sets the payroll limitations for next season as well as a direction for their team, all the mainstream media and bloggers can do at this point is speculate about moves the Cubs could and/or should make in the off-season

Chone Figgins figures to command a deal similar to the one signed by Brian Roberts and Rafael Furcal (three years, $30 million with a fourth year club option in 2012 worth $12 million). Figgins would give the Cubs speed at the top of the order but at 32 years old (turns 32 on January 22) how many more years will Figgins be able to use his best asset, his speed?

For as good as Figgins is at the top of the lineup, he does not hit for much power. In 133 games for the Angels this year he has just 26 doubles, seven triples and three home runs (.303/.399/.397/.795). He has walked 85 times, struck out 93 times and has stolen 39 bases but he has been caught stealing 16 times (71%). For comparison, Ryan Theriot has 19 doubles, five triples and seven home runs in 131 games (.285/.335/.382/.716). Theriot has walked 35 times, struck out 82 times and swiped 16 bags while being caught seven times (70%).

Theriot’s numbers at the plate compare rather well with Figgins’ numbers this season.

Then there is the durability factor and where would he fit in defensively.

After a career high in games played in 2005 (158), Chone Figgins played in 155 games in 2006 while putting up a .267/.336/.376/.712 line with 23 doubles, eight triples and nine homers. In 2007 Figgins missed time due to breaking the tips on both his right index finger and middle finger fielding a ball in Spring Training on March 22. Figgins was activated on April 29 and put together the best year of his career.

In 115 games in 2007, Figgins compiled a .330/.393/.432/.825 line with 24 doubles, six triples and three home runs.

Chone Figgins suffered a hamstring strain in May of 2008 and was placed on the DL on May 10. Figgins was reactivated on May 21 and also missed time on the bereavement list in July (July 12 – July 16). In 116 games in 2008, Figgins hit .276 with a .367 OBP with a .318 slugging percentage. Figgins hit just 14 doubles, one triple and one homer while swiping only 34 bases.

Chone Figgins has been healthy this season … but it also his free-agent year, which is always a red flag.

The other part of the equation is where would the Cubs play him? Figgins has primarily been used at third base over the last several years. Granted the Cubs need a backup for the games Aramis Ramirez will miss next season, but do they need another player playing out of position?

Here is where Mike Scioscia has been using Chone Figgins over the past four seasons:

2009

  • Third Base – 129 games
  • Second Base – 2 games
  • Left Field – 1 game
  • DH – 2 games

2008

  • Third Base – 105 games
  • Second Base – 9 games
  • DH – 2 games
  • Pinch-hitter – 1 game

2007

  • Third Base – 99 games
  • Second Base – 9 games
  • Right Field – 11 games
  • DH – 1 game
  • Pinch-hitter – 1 game

2006

  • Third Base – 34 games
  • Second Base – 9 games
  • Shortstop – 2 games
  • Left Field – 16 games
  • Centerfield – 96 games
  • Right Field – 6 games
  • DH – 6 games
  • Pinch-hitter – 2 games

While Chone Figgins has a reputation as being a utility player, he has not spent many games away from the hot corner since the 2006 season. So where could the Cubs play him in the field?

Not only do the Cubs need more speed offensively, they also must improve their defense next year. Right now the Cubs best right fielder is in center, the Cubs best shortstop is on the bench and at least three players are playing out of position … Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley. Soriano and Bradley are better fits as designated hitters in the American League, but that is a discussion for another day.

The Cubs should move Ryan Theriot to second base, which would utilize his arm and range much better than at shortstop. With that said, Chone Figgins has not played short since 2006 and relearning a position could have an effect on his production at the plate.

Buster Olney thinks Chone Figgins will end up in left field with the Yankees and give Joe Girardi options at other positions as the year progresses. With Alfonso Soriano under contract for five more years following this season, as long as Soriano is healthy he will man left field for the foreseeable future. The same can be said about Aramis Ramirez, unless he opts out of his contract following the 2010 campaign.

So that would leave either second base or shortstop for Figgins with Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley in center and right respectively next season. There is the feeling the Cubs will try to trade Bradley at the end of the year but a deal like that could take some time … and might not happen. Chone Figgins does not figure to be on the market long, if the Angels even allow him to test the waters.

The Cubs have a lot of decisions to make once Tom Ricketts gains control of the organization. Figgins might look good in the short term at the top of the Cubs’ lineup but in the long term they could be investing in another aging player that’s best years are in the rearview mirror.

Stay Tuned … this is the first of what should be many rumors centered around Chone Figgins.