There are not too many occasions during a baseball off season when a story makes your jaw drop to the floor. The Pujols signing by the Angels and the Pineda/Montero deal were two such occasions. Now there's a third. Eric Wedge has told the press that Ichiro Suzuki will be moved out of the lead off spot to third in the line up and Chone Figgins will lead off for the Seattle Mariners. What!?
Wedge has hinted all off season that he was toying with the idea of moving Ichiro out of the lead off spot. This site has already posted a long dissertation on the merits of such a move. The conclusion of that piece was that Ichiro should start the season and lead off, just like he always has. The only other Mariners' player even considered for the lead off spot was Dustin Ackley. Never in the wildest dreams did it ever occur to move Chone Figgins into that spot.
If Ichiro was moved out of the first spot, then second in the order made sense. But third? That's not as far-fetched as it sounds. In his career, Suzuki is a .327 hitter with a .400 on-base percentage with men on base and with runners in scoring position, Suzuki is a .333 hitter with a .436 on-base percentage. Pitchers rarely want to pitch to the guy with men on base as he has been intentionally walked 168 times in his career in those two situations. But this isn't the same Ichiro we saw a few years ago. This Ichiro is an older one who struggled last season.
But the real kicker is Chone Figgins leading off. Figgins has a combined on-base percentage of .309 as a member of the Seattle Mariners. Sure, Figgins had a healthy on-base percentage in his years with the Angels and even walked 101 times in 2009. But Figgins has fallen off a cliff since 2009. And he's going to be 34 in 2012 so he's not going to somehow relive his prime years.
Okay, let's give Figgins the benefit of doubt. Perhaps he can return to his 70 walks per season average. If he can do that, Wedge is a genius. If Figgins is permanently stuck in the hole he dug last season, Wedge is going to look like an idiot. But hey, nothing is gained without a little risk, right?
There is an old adage that you put your best hitter in the number three hole. The Mariners' best hitter right now is not Ichiro Suzuki. Dustin Ackley is the Mariners' best hitter and Montero may prove to the the second best. Wedge's pronouncement is a shock. Perhaps he's smarter than the rest of us. Time will tell.