Wednesday, January 31, 2007

For Kevin Costner, it was "Waterworld". A well thought of, Hollywood mega-star, who had produced good film after good film, saw his reputation and A-list status collapse, after a poor performance in a bad movie, based on an even worse premise, that he himself produced and directed. Costner has never quite made it back to the level he had attained after his well received films "Bull Durham", "Field of Dreams" and "The Untouchables". For a brief time in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Costner was the “it” man in Hollywood. His popularity peeked after "Dances With Wolves" won multiple Oscars.

"Waterworld" topped most of 1995’s “worst” lists and maintains it’s reputation as an example of what not to do when making a film today. While Costner has enjoyed mild success in starring and supporting roles, he has never regained the respect of movie-goers, nor the confidence of studios.

In 2002, Chone Figgins emerged from the minor leagues late in the season and provided the World Champion Angels with a spark off the bench, late in games, as a pinch runner. By the middle of 2003, after injuries had beset the Angels, Figgins found himself in the starting line-up. He didn’t look back. Playing at one of 6 different positions, Figgins provided the Angels with a .290 average and outstanding speed from the leadoff spot for the better part of the next two and half seasons.

In 2005, Figgins was the Team MVP and garnered votes from the writers in the AL MVP race.

Who wouldn’t love a 5’7” 170 pound super-utility man, who has a knack for making sparkling defense plays all over the field, successfully going first to third on balls only the games riskiest base-runners would even attempt? He was the embodiment of a sparkplug.

Figgins was at the height of his popularity locally and nationally.

Before 2006, the Angels’ front office rewarded Figgins with a $10 million contract extension. Figgins struggled, especially in the first half, both at the plate and in the field. By season’s end, Figgins was in the 9-hole, despite hitting a respectable .280 in the season’s final months and once again finishing near the league’s top in stolen bases and triples.

In the end, it was a sub-par year for one of Baseball’s most recognizable little guys. It seems though, that many, specifically Angel fans considered it to be disastrous. All off-season, we have heard and read the many rants declaring Figgins as trade bait. The same fans sigh at the notion of Figgins manning third base for the Halos in 2007, a feeling that cannot be adamantly argued against.

With the Angels’ main weakness being power, it is not ideal to play a speed guy at a corner infield position, especially one, who defensively played that position poorly a season ago. But, with Gary Matthews Jr. signed to play centerfield for the next half-decade and Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero penciled in left and right field respectively, for at least two more seasons, Mike Scioscia’s options are limited with Figgins on the roster. With the unlikelihood that Stoneman will trade anyone, let alone Figgins, it’s apparent that Figgins will be an Angel for at least the remainder of his contract, which expires after 2008. With that in mind, it still seems that all faith has been lost in Figgins, as many have called for him to be left out of any plans as an everyday player, an assertion that makes little sense considering Figgins’ value to the Angels in the past.

For fans, a wait and see approach is warranted.

With the roster as is, it’s difficult to find fault in Scioscia’s logic to start Figgins. As constructed, the team’s best offensive line-up must include his bat, and maybe more importantly, his legs. Figgins’ talents lend themselves to the Angels’ style of play. He is likely the only Angel capable of manufacturing a run by himself, with his ability to steal bases and pressure opposing defenses. Figgins’ also boasts a career average on the plus side of .285. And, despite maintaining a high strikeout rate, he has improved his ability to work walks. With a lack of power, Figgins is still capable of 45+ extra base hits. Just a season ago, it looked all but certain that Figgins would develop into a .300 /.360 leadoff man. The positives are still there, and Figgins did not struggle enough at the plate in 2006 to convince anyone that he cannot reach a higher standard.

Hamstrung by the roster, Scioscia has little choice but to play Figgins at third-base, a position Figgins played relatively well in 2005. Consider that entering 2006, Figgins anticipated to spend most of his time in centerfield, and it’s not difficult to see why he struggled defensively at third base – a position few play extremely well. Knowing that third base is his entering 2007 should be a plus for Figgins, who can spend the off-season and spring training becoming acclimated. Improvement can be expected.

While the other options at third base – notably Robb Quinlan, and Shea Hillenbrand, may provide the Angels more power, the number of homeruns each player is capable of hitting does not make up for the overall production of Figgins as it relates to creating runs, assuming Figgins’ production returns close to the level of that in 2004 and 2005.

But still, the fans' confidence is lacking.

In a perfect world, Kevin Costner would have passed on "Waterworld", the Angels would have signed Aramis Ramirez; Gary Matthews Jr. would have been signed to a one year deal if signed at all, and Chone Figgins would return to his role as a super-utility player, playing everyday, all over the field.

As it stands, Chone Figgins is your third-baseman in 2007. Is it a make or break season for Figgins? Not quite, but a productive campaign defensively and offensively could bring back the faith of a lot of fans. Here’s to hoping that the 2007 season for Figgins goes more smoothly than the 157 minutes of "The Postman."
Love to hear what you think!

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