There is no lesson we can learn about Chone Figgins. That's the lesson.
It's a horrifying lesson. Tuesday, Figgins was designated for assignment with $8 million left on his contract, which probably gives you an idea of how bad he was. The Mariners had to choose between paying $8 million for Chone Figgins or $8.5 million (Figgins' salary plus the minimum) to have a different utility player on the roster, and they chose the latter. Or if you want an idea of how bad he was, you could look at his stats.
The correct response to those stats is to take off your sunglasses and mutter, "Get me the President." Figgins is no Bill Bergen, but he's been unconscionably bad. And now it feels like we should learn something from this.
Don't sign players over 30.
Oh, stop. You know there's a risk, but you also know all sorts of players who have worked out. Heck, Raúl Ibañez is 56 years old, but he's been productive for the last decade. And even the players who decline and became lesser players kept some kind of value into their decline phase. They usually don't turn 32 and dump their talent in a Toys for Tots bin before the holidays.
Beware the hitters without any power.
Again, that's an oversimplification. There are tons of players who didn't hit more than 50 homers before they turned 30, and who had nice, long, productive careers afterward. Here's a list. Omar Vizquel, David Eckstein, Bill Mueller, Brett Butler -- all high-OBP, low-power guys who didn't just disappear when they were in their early 30s. They held their value, and in some cases, got better, like Marco Scutaro.
Safeco Field is haunted by a poltergeist named Pud Cranston, a bunting specialist released by the Seattle Indians when the Dead Ball Era ended, now an apparition who flits around the infield, preventing hits and ruining the confidence and careers of as many hitters as he can because it's the only thing that interests his blackened soul.
I could buy this one, actually.
But there isn't a one-size-fits-all takeaway from the Chone Figgins debacle. He alternated mediocre and good years for the Angels, signed a contract that was a little pricey, but reasonable at the time, and fell straight into the toilet. And there isn't an After School Special lesson everyone learned that will help them avoid the next Chone Figgins.
Figgins was an on-base machine with speed and the ability to play several positions. In the archetype of the perfect roster, that guy has a prominent role. The Mariners were right to covet him, even if only for the short term. You might have disagreed with the contract at the time, but there's no way you could have predicted it would have turned this sour.
There isn't a lesson of Chone Figgins. There's just a cautionary tale, a story to tell around the campfire with a flashlight to your face. See that free agent, the one who you think could help your team? This could happen to him. There was no rhyme or reason to it. The Mariners fans thought they were getting a third baseman who didn't make a lot of outs. They got the worst player in baseball.
We see that now. But there was no way to predict it then. Baseball is a harsh mistress, and we don't really know anything. Well, except for the fact that Figgins will latch on as a utility player somewhere else and have a little success. We know that. Mariners fans have had it too easy, and they're due a little comeuppance. Figgins is just the guy to do it.