Sources: Mariners lead race to sign 3B Figgins

The Mariners have made progress toward a deal with free agent Chone Figgins and are clear frontrunners to sign the third baseman, multiple major league sources told

The team and Figgins’ representatives engaged in serious talks Thursday. One person briefed on the discussions said he wouldn’t be surprised if the sides agreed to a deal of at least four years over the next several days. But he cautioned that there is “nothing done” yet.

“Anaheim is trying,” one source said Friday.

The market for third basemen began to take shape earlier Thursday, when Placido Polanco signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Phillies. Figgins is younger than Polanco and had a better 2009 season, so it’s likely that his deal will be worth more than $30 million.

The Angels have maintained interest in retaining Figgins since the free-agent period began, but it doesn’t appear that they have offered more than a three-year deal thus far. It’s still possible that Angels owner Arte Moreno will counter the Mariners’ efforts by authorizing a late push to re-sign Figgins.

The Angels could free up money for Figgins with an 11th-hour trade of outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., who has $23 million left on his contract. But general manager Tony Reagins has tried unsuccessfully for some time to trade Matthews, a .248 hitter over the past three seasons.

The departure of Figgins for Seattle would be a difficult blow for the Angels. The Mariners are an improving division rival, and the Angels lack a proven internal replacement for Figgins — at third base or in the leadoff spot.

Figgins made his first All-Star team this year, batting .298 with five home runs and 54 RBIs for Los Angeles . He has developed into a good defensive third baseman and is the Mariners’ top choice as a replacement to Adrian Beltre there.

Yet, it’s possible (however remote) that both Beltre and Figgins will play for Seattle in 2010.

The Mariners offered Beltre salary arbitration earlier this week. If he accepts, the team could move Figgins to second base and Jose Lopez to first. Figgins could also play left field.

Beltre, however, is unlikely to accept arbitration, according to major-league sources. His agent, Scott Boras, wants Beltre to land at least a four-year, $40 million deal, those sources say.

With the Mariners, Figgins would form an intriguing tandem atop the order with star right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Figgins led the American League with 101 walks this year and had almost twice as many steals (42) as any player on Seattle ‘s roster this year.

The Red Sox and Giants are also looking for a corner infielder and have the spending power to make a late bid for Figgins. But it certainly appears that he will end up with the Mariners or Angels. And as of late Thursday, Seattle had the edge.