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Mariners Doing It Right With Ackley and Figgins

Some teams get it, and some teams do not. As we discussed last week, the White Sox apparently do not. They’re just 4.5 games out of the AL Central lead after an abysmal start, yet they continue playing one of the league’s weakest hitters and placing him atop their lineup. That’s only going to hamper their chances to overtake the Tigers and Indians. A move is necessary, but they’re not making it.

The Seattle Mariners, on the other hand, appear to understand their current position. They’re at .500, just a game and a half behind Texas for the AL West crown. They have the league’s least potent offense, which surprises no one. But they had areas where they can improve. Earlier this month I wrote about Chone Figgins and his job security. Last week the Mariners finally made the move, recalling Dustin Ackley and benching Figgins. It might not be a cure-all for the offense, but the move shows their willingness to make the team better even if it means bruising some egos.

The Mariners are in a much tougher position with Figgins than the White Sox are with Pierre. After this season the Sox and Pierre can, and likely will, part ways, with only the remainder of Pierre’s $5 million salary standing in the way of an immediate separation. The Mariners have Figgins for two more years and owe him at least $17 million more, plus the remainder of his 2011 salary. That gives them a much greater incentive to continue playing Figgins to see if he can turn things around. Yet they are the ones who put the ineffective player on the bench, while the White Sox continue to play theirs.

With Ackley now manning second and the surprisingly effective Adam Kennedy sliding to third, the Mariners are in a better position for the rest of the season. This doesn’t guarantee them better offensive production — in fact, they’re 4-5 with 2.44 runs per game since Ackley’s promotion, even though Ackley himself has gone 9 for 30 with four extra base hits. But it’s hard to think that replacing Figgins’s .216 wOBA wouldn’t result in more runs in the final 84 games of the season. Even using Ackley’s ZiPS rest of season projection of a .315 wOBA, and assuming 300 PA going forward, Ackley projects to be about 25 runs better than Figgins the rest of the way.

The White Sox are not without options in this regard. As mentioned in last week’s post, they could move Brent Lillibridge into a more prominent role. But if they would rather use him as a super utility guy, they could promote prospect Dayan Viciedo. GM Kenny Williams is on record saying that he’s ready, and he could represent a major improvement on both sides of the ball for the Sox. Through 316 PA at AAA he has a .387 wOBA, and while that’s largely based on a .368 BABIP, he could still see greater success than Pierre. The possibility alone should be enough for the White Sox to act — it’s not as though he could perform much worse than Pierre. Yet they continue sitting on their hands, waiting for who knows what to happen.

Before the season started it was easy to like the White Sox’s chances in the AL Central. They had a solid pitching staff along with a number of solid and spectacular offensive contributors. But they’ve run into problems, and they don’t appear willing to make the necessary changes even as one of the biggest problems taunts them from the leadoff spot every night. The Mariners, on the other hand, weren’t given much consideration for the AL West crown, given their poor offense. Yet I have much more faith in the Mariners to win the West right now than I do the White Sox to win the Central, and it goes far beyond the number of games they’re currently behind. The Mariners have made a tough but necessary move in order to shore up a weakness. The White Sox have refused to do the same. It’s tough to tell exactly what they’re doing right now, but they certainly could learn a valuable lesson from Jack Z and the crew in Seattle.