Goodbye, Franklin Gutierrez / Bring Back Franklin Gutierrez

Jeff Sullivan · November 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Last offseason, the Mariners agreed to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, and then he pitched like Joe Saunders would pitch in front of a bad defense. Today, the Mariners have turned down an opportunity to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, leaving him a free agent. It absolutely makes sense, and I’m by no means saying the Mariners made a bad decision, but there’s a cynical angle here for anybody who feels like being in a bad mood. You don’t even have to look that hard for it. The Mariners make it pretty easy.

But the other news is that the Mariners also declined the 2014 option for Franklin Gutierrez, leaving him a free agent as well. Gutierrez will therefore be exposed to the market, as the team wasn’t going to commit $7 million after all the problems he’s had, and the probability is that Gutierrez’s days in this uniform are over. That’s by no means guaranteed, and the Mariners are more familiar with him than anyone else, but that might be the whole point, and it would be easy to see another team viewing Gutierrez as a high-upside potential bargain. Put most simply, if a guy can sign with any one of 30 teams, the odds of his signing with one team are pretty small.

I remain convinced that Gutierrez captures the very essence of this whole experience. Maybe more now than ever, I don’t know. We’re fully aware of Gutierrez’s potential, because we got to see him around his ceiling for an entire season, not far back. We’re also, simultaneously, fully aware of Gutierrez’s capacity to disappoint, sometimes for predictable reasons, sometimes because of a disease few of us had ever heard of before. Probably, Franklin Gutierrez is going to let you down. But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t? Can you imagine?

I personally find it almost impossible to objectively look past that upside. Perhaps because I don’t know if that would be truly objective. People always talk about certainty and reliability and whatnot as selling points, but how reliable is a supposedly reliable player, really? Upside is real, and upside can drive high-achieving seasons. If Gutierrez had spent the last several years with another organization, we’d identify him now as a potential free-agent bargain. As is, plenty of people will say they’re all out of patience, totally ready to move on, but I can’t move on, not while I know what Gutierrez can do.

An average, reliable player might give you an average performance for 100 games, or 160 games. A player like Gutierrez might give you anything across a vast spectrum. He’s a risk, but are the Mariners not in the very position to take some little risks? Right now they probably project as something like a 70-win ballclub. Who’s going to thumb their nose to upside? My sense this past season was that the Mariners were more than ready to move on, once Gutierrez was sidelined again, but a lot of that sense was coming from Eric Wedge, and now Eric Wedge isn’t here anymore. The guy who most loved Gutierrez isn’t here anymore, either, but, you never know. Maybe Zduriencik still sees the glimmer. He has been watching the Mariners.

And Gutierrez did some interesting things late last season. When he was sick, and I mean really sick, the biggest issue was his lack of strength. He didn’t have any quickness, he didn’t have any muscle. Last year he batted 151 times, and he clobbered ten home runs. That’s twice as many as Mike Zunino. That’s half as many as Justin Smoak, in 29% the time. I’m going to cheat, here, but let’s set a minimum of 150 plate appearances and sort the league leaderboard by isolated slugging percentage (SLG – BA). We find Guti at .255, and we find David Ortiz at .255. There’s Paul Goldschmidt at .249. Guti’s in 11th out of 399, and while he’s behind some guys like Jeff Baker, Donnie Murphy, and Ryan Raburn, there are sluggers up there, too. Lots of ’em. There’s reason to believe Guti has his power back, which means there’s reason to believe his health situation is at least manageable.

He’ll never be what he was that one year. At this point it’s a physical impossibility. He’s older, so his defense won’t be as good, and he’s more careful, so his defense won’t be as good. Same goes for his baserunning. And Gutierrez has spoken about the difficulty of playing too many days in a row, so he’ll probably never be an everyday guy. But he’s a guy who can handle center and swing the bat, and he’s not yet super old. He’ll be 31 next February, but that’s 31 with a lot of medical attention and lesser wear and tear. It’s a fragile 31, but a talented and capable 31.

Maybe he could be good for 400 plate appearances. Maybe 500, if you really stretch. The neat thing about Gutierrez in this market is he shouldn’t require that much of a commitment, given, you know, what he is. No one’s going to look at him and see an everyday player, because that would be silly. At most, he’s a regular, and a regular you want to support with perfectly capable backup types. Outfielders with versatility who are good enough to play but maybe not good enough to start right out of the gate. Outfielders like Michael Saunders and Abe Almonte. In those two, the Mariners would have some depth, in the event that they kept Gutierrez and he needed some time off. And they’d play often enough that it wouldn’t feel like they were wasting away on the bench. With Gutierrez in the fold, there’s playing time for lots of guys.

The Mariners need help in the outfield, badly, especially if Nick Franklin or Dustin Ackley gets moved. They need help beyond what Gutierrez could provide, because what they need are starters. But that’s a separate issue, and I see room for Gutierrez here if the front office isn’t too sick of him. Guarantee some millions with incentives. Include a 2015 vesting option for a good amount of money that Gutierrez could trigger with modest playing time. Let him know that he’ll get his money if he stays on the field, and give him that chance, again. It’s not like it’s Gutierrez or a guy like Ellsbury or Choo. This team needs a lot of help. If you want to dream, dream away, because lots of people can fit.

Odds are, the Mariners won’t be real good in 2014, so this is a time to take some shorter-term chances. A good 2014 Mariners team would need good performances from a wide variety of players, and Gutierrez is at least capable of that, if he can play more than half the time. With Saunders and Almonte, the Mariners could survive another injury by planning for it ahead. I don’t know what there is to lose, provided Gutierrez doesn’t cost a fortune. Money and games? The Mariners have been losing money and games for a decade. I mean, they’ve been earning money, but losing money on underproductive players. If Gutierrez were to under-produce, or not produce at all, that’d be a bummer, but the process would’ve been okay and the season wouldn’t be instantly tanked.

Do it. Do it, unless some other team blows Gutierrez out of the water for some reason with a big contract guarantee. Do it, unless the team knows something particular about Gutierrez’s condition that dooms him to an ever-disappointing remainder of his career. Do it, because Gutierrez has been awesome here once, and he helped the team play good baseball and galvanize a downtrodden fan base. Things have been dark ever since, but you can always surprise, and surprises are always explicable when you examine how they took place. If Gutierrez were to have a productive 2014 over semi-regular playing time, would that really come as a shock?

Maybe I’m just completely blinded by upside, upside that might not really exist anymore, upside you could find somewhere else. I know I’m not completely rational about guys like this, in the way that a lot of people weren’t always rational about Rich Harden before. But, actually, I think they were on to something. Between 2008-2009, Harden posted a 3.07 ERA over 51 starts. The two years before, he posted a worse ERA over 13. Talent before durability. Durability gets you Joe Saunders and Jon Garland. Talent can get you nothing, or everything.


41 Responses to “Goodbye, Franklin Gutierrez / Bring Back Franklin Gutierrez”

  1. californiamariner on November 1st, 2013 7:45 pm

    I fully expect the A’s or some other team to sign him and see him succeed. I’d like to see him back though as Jeff was saying.

  2. Westside guy on November 1st, 2013 8:14 pm

    A low base, big incentive offer would be fine – just don’t count on him. His health issues have ostensibly been solved before, only to have it turn out they were wrong.

    But a truly healthy Guti roaming the outfield is a thing of beauty.

    On a side note… I’m not as sold on Almonte as a lot of you apparently are.

  3. Badbadger on November 1st, 2013 8:56 pm

    Although Guti is a sentimental favorite, I guess I don’t really want him back. I don’t mean to be cold hearted, but the guy has Ankylosing spondylitis which is a highly variable disease but is likely to be a big deal. I’d rather the M’s had their high upside risks be Miller, Franklin or Ackley, and Zunino. I’d rather they come up with a couple solid and dependable options for the outfield. If you have risks at too many positions the busts tend to cancel out the guys who pan out.

  4. rodzilla on November 1st, 2013 9:54 pm

    Guti was a great outfielder, but Guti isn’t that guy anymore. I’d like to see him succeed as much as anyone, but frankly, that’s not likely to happen.

    If the M’s want to keep putting butts in seats (and ask me to renew my season tickets), they need to at least pretend to move on and not keep throwing $ at things that haven’t worked out in the past. I’m sorry Guti has to be part of that change, but that’s what I’m looking for going forward.

  5. mrakbaseball on November 1st, 2013 11:21 pm

    It’s time to move on. If he resurrects his career somewhere else, so be it.

  6. MrZDevotee on November 1st, 2013 11:34 pm

    I was always a big Guty fan, but it’s time to move on. My main reason for feeling this way is that with all the troubles he’s had physiologically you have to believe he’s going to decline at a faster rate than a reasonably healthy player. So the hope that he can play everyday, for any length of time, becomes more and more unlikely. Which also makes me worry he’ll never return to the player he once was, who is the player we feel we missed out on for the previous few seasons. And is the reason we see “upside”…

    Based on the last few seasons, if he only plays 1 out of every 3 games he’s paid, he can produce pretty good results for streaks of weeks (or days) at a time…

    His upside is based largely on what we think we missed out on in previous years, or feel owed in missed greatness. This is the same way I feel about Bedard’s years as a Mariner. There was so much potential to be useful, and lots of “what if’s”, but mostly lots of “where is he’s”?

    And for Guty too, I’d like to see him go somewhere where he’s a 4th/5th OF, with potential to start when healthy, but not needed as an everday player. On a contender somewhere. He’s perfect for that…

  7. maqman on November 2nd, 2013 2:38 am

    I’f he plays he’s still good, better than average. If he comes in on a performance based one year deal I’d love to see him work some more.

  8. ivan on November 2nd, 2013 7:41 am

    I’m with Jeff. Sign him. If they can bring in Michael Morse, Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero, Jack Cust, Milton Bradley, Mike Wilson, and Eric Byrnes, and put them in a Mariners outfield, then they can give Gutierrez another look.

  9. bookbook on November 2nd, 2013 9:08 am

    Guti needs to retire. He needs to work with specialists to figure out how to maximize his odds of being a functional, walking talking 50-year old.
    I’d love to have him as a coach in a couple of years, but I can’t believe the rigor of playing professional sport is in his best long term interest.

  10. globalalpha on November 2nd, 2013 9:18 am

    Do it! If we can slot him in as a potentially low-cost 4th or 5th outfielder, that’s a slam dunk. Far better than taking a flyer on someone like Eric Byrnes or Jason Bay. As long as we are not relying on him as the full time CF. Just keep expectations low and you won’t be disappointed!

    Is it a stretch to say that Guti, at his best, delivers equal value to Ellsbury?

  11. casey on November 2nd, 2013 9:52 am

    Unfortunately Guti had one great season – 2009 when he was a 6 WAR player. That was 5 seasons ago. Jason Bay was also pretty awesome in 2009 hitting 36 homers. Even Guti’s much vaunted defence has disappeared the last two years. He is 31 this winter – I can’t imagine his speed and overall health are going to return any time soon.

  12. Easley45 on November 2nd, 2013 11:56 am

    Guti as a fourth or fifth outfielder seems like a perfect fit. He could in fact be very useful in that role.

  13. Bill on November 2nd, 2013 12:22 pm

    Jeff, might it work to look at Guti in the role of DH for 2014. You have to have one. You could sure do a lot worse. He isn’t fat and therefore slow as hell like most DH’s. When he’s feeling great play him in the outfield. He does hit the ball out from time to time. I think he’d be a plus DH! Is there something I’m missing? Other than Raul?

  14. Westside guy on November 2nd, 2013 1:07 pm

    Bill, I don’t disagree with you but – if there’s one thing a Zduriencik team will have no shortages of already, it’s DHs. 🙂

  15. henryv on November 2nd, 2013 1:25 pm

    As mentioned above a smarter team will give him a middling contact (read: the A’s) and he will be a 4 WAR guy on a playoff team. Because fucking mariners.

  16. bermanator on November 2nd, 2013 1:31 pm

    I’m gonna remember this the next time Jeff dismisses something that another player does over 150 PA because of the small sample size.

    Honestly, that’s my biggest takeaway. Keep Guti or don’t — it’s a small amount of money for a small chance of success — but I’m surprised and disappointed that Jeff is using data that, were it presented for a different player, he would dismiss entirely as being too small of a sample size to draw conclusions from.

  17. henryv on November 2nd, 2013 2:13 pm

    Guti having talent isn’t a small sample size…

    He has been good nearly all of his career, when he was actually on the field.

    Even if he was league average for 50 games, he’s probably better than most internal options.

  18. casey on November 2nd, 2013 2:42 pm

    Guti has had nearly 1300 plate appearances over the last 4 seasons

    2010 hit .245 with 12 homers and 25 stolen bases but only .666 OPS and his outfield UZR was an very ordinary death to flying things 5.3 / 150

    got worse in 2011 when he hit .224 with 1 homer, 13 steals and .534 OPS. In the outfield he was back to his former self with 28.8 UZR/150. Brendan Ryan playing CF.

    in 2012 he hit .260 with 4 homers and now only 3 steals. A replacement outfielder OPS of .729 but his defence was worst ever a -31.7 / 150 – let all flying things live, Raul was only -26 in 2013.

    and in 2013 he was a nice platoon offensive player hitting .248 with 10 homers, only 3 steals but a decent .777 OPS. Defence was still poor with -10 UZR.

    The Oakland A’s would make him a platoon corner outfielder and he would probably flourish and stay healthy just to piss on the M’s.

  19. qwerty on November 2nd, 2013 2:44 pm

    Can we bring in about 10 OF’ers that are from outside the organization and back fill our minor leagues with new faces?

  20. bermanator on November 2nd, 2013 4:05 pm

    “Probably, Franklin Gutierrez is going to let you down. But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t? Can you imagine?”

    “Probably, the Mariners are going to let you down. But what if they don’t? What if they don’t?” — your 2014 Mariners advertising campaign.

  21. Jeff Sullivan on November 2nd, 2013 5:04 pm

    Come on, Bermanator, it’s obviously not about the specific numbers. It’s about the clear demonstration that Guti had a lot of his strength back, relative to where he was when he was sick and weak and couldn’t drive the ball. That’s illustrated rather conclusively by the numbers, even over the small sample size. There are fine things to do with that stuff and there are mistakes. It would be a mistake to conclude that Guti is good for another .250 ISO going forward. It would not be a mistake to say, all right, he can hit a little again, because he’s more physically fit. Don’t go looking for errors and inconsistencies.

  22. stevemotivateir on November 2nd, 2013 7:49 pm

    The Oakland A’s would make him a platoon corner outfielder and he would probably flourish and stay healthy just to piss on the M’s.

    Easy to see that happening, especially since they just let Young loose.

  23. djw on November 2nd, 2013 11:14 pm

    Guti needs to retire. He needs to work with specialists to figure out how to maximize his odds of being a functional, walking talking 50-year old.

    I’m 99% sure you’re not a doctor, and 100% sure you’re not a doctor who works with Franklin Gutierrez. So why are you pretending you are?

  24. bermanator on November 3rd, 2013 6:16 am

    That’s great, Jeff. Now I know what your definition of a sufficient sample size is, so here’s hoping for some consistency with that going forward.

  25. Seattleken on November 3rd, 2013 7:13 am

    Guti, has a significant sample size/history as a very useful player when he plays. Yes last year was only a quarter of a season but wasn’t far off his career numbers, and he showed hes still got the strengh to hit the ball a long way.

    Its clearly a risk reward if the salary makes up for the injury risk it makes sense.

    Look at the crap Seattle has in their outfield.

    We don’t have one player I would expect to have a chance at 3 WAR next year in the outfield and it would be nice to have three. Guti when available atleast plays like a guy who could be a 3+ WAR guy.

    M’s should sign him up to 6 million including incentives as I would expect him to play half time, and at that price hes a deal.

  26. Badbadger on November 3rd, 2013 8:14 am

    Guti had something of a power surge last year, but ankylosing spondylitis tends to be marked by episodic periods of inflammation, so that’s really no guarantee that he’s come back in anything like a permanent way. High impact exercise is not recommended for people with ankylosing spondylitis as it tends to make their joints painful and stiff.

    I just don’t think there’s much hope of him ever making any real comeback or being anything like a full time player, and I personally find it painful to watch him breaking himself down on the field.

  27. miscreant on November 3rd, 2013 9:50 am

    I don’t believe that Gutierrez’ ego will allow him to sign a contract that relegates him to a part time role.

    It’s time to move on from “Death to Flying Things”

  28. Westside guy on November 3rd, 2013 11:55 am

    Miscreant, I think that’s probably true with many/most pro athletes who’ve achieved star status at some point in their career.

  29. Jeff Sullivan on November 3rd, 2013 9:38 pm

    Look, bermanator, I can’t stop you from misinterpreting things, especially if you’re doing it on purpose, but I can at least point out when you’re doing it so that perhaps in time you can learn your own lesson when you grow tired of not getting the message.

  30. LongDistance on November 4th, 2013 2:21 am

    Connecting The Dots Department:

    “Guti as a fourth or fifth outfielder seems like a perfect fit. He could in fact be very useful in that role.”

    “The Oakland A’s would make him a platoon corner outfielder and he would probably flourish and stay healthy just to piss on the M’s.”

    “Look at the crap Seattle has in their outfield.”

    These three statements, put together, show why Guti couldn’t/shouldn’t be here.

    A. If you don’t platoon him, you’re just driving off a cliff.
    B. We have nothing to platoon him with. Nothing.
    C. Keeping him is just driving off a cliff anyway.

    Quibble to Casey: if all Guti needed to stay healthy was a purposeful spiteful vengefulness (I’m sure he’s already pissed off enough, as it is, with his lot in life), I’ve no doubt he’d be 100% right now.

  31. Badbadger on November 4th, 2013 7:05 am

    LongDistance: well, you could GET someone to platoon him with, we’re going to need to get some outfielders anyway.

    My objection is that going the Guti route means that instead of getting a regular full time outfielder, you’re getting a less good outfielder with the hope that Guti will get enough playing time and be good enough to add value to the position. Why not set our sights higher and get a good reliable outfielder? I mean, maybe that won’t work out, but it’s only early November; no reason to start punting now.

    And I still think that given the nature of Guti’s illness that he’s never really going to come back. Watching a man struggle and break down isn’t any kind of good.

  32. LongDistance on November 4th, 2013 8:19 am


    I don’t usually double post, but…

    Talking about platooning Guti, is sort of like going to the dark side, making assumptions that he’d be adding value to whatever (frankly, the fact we’re even discussing him, shows how bad things are).

    My dream would be TWO toolsy, OBP-style slap hitting outfielders to get some consistency into the offensive march. As it stands, what offense we have is spread too thin, and so we get spotty performance. And the defense… isn’t.

    And just for the record, no… even with that, I still wouldn’t want to see Guti platooned in there. Maybe even less so. For me, platooning should only be used for LH/RH batting flexibility, or slumps, or truly optimistic injury recovery situations… Or… at worse… stuck, Raul/Chone, salary situations.

    But we’re talking none of that. If Guti’s still around, somehow, come March… OK. But I wouldn’t pencil him in at this point.

    He’d be a distraction. And they are way too easily distracted (Dingerland, for example…).

    The Mariners need to focus on what they were missing all season, and address that. Not on what just might be cobbled together across the winter.

  33. Beniitec on November 4th, 2013 11:17 am

    He’s a known quantity. We love his contribution. He has just been unable to stay healthy. He’s better than 70% of what’s out there and has a huge upside if he can stay healthy. He already feels like he owes this team something and probably considers this home. He’s a special player when healthy. I say bring him back.

  34. kill55 on November 4th, 2013 1:32 pm

    Which 30-year-old free agent AL West outfielder fielder will get the bigger contract: Franklin Gutierrez or Chris Young?

  35. Easley45 on November 4th, 2013 3:56 pm

    LongDistance – I’m not quite sure how my dot is connected with the others, or why you draw the conclusion that you state.

    I don’t think anyone would consider Guti a candidate for a full time starting position, but we have seen what he is capable of when healthy. Given that he can also play all three OF positions, it seems like he would be a great candidate for 4th/5th reserve outfielder, providing more production off the bench than normally expected from that roster spot. Meanwhile his reduced role mitigates his health issues, giving him regular days off, and the team would not have to count on him to contribute like a starter.

  36. MrZDevotee on November 4th, 2013 9:38 pm

    “He’s a known quantity.”

    Oddly, to some of us he’s the epitome of the exact opposite of a known quantity…

    He’s either part of the healthcare system for months at a time, the DH for Tacoma a couple times a year, or the best centerfielder in the AL West for 2 or 3 starts at a time…

    There’s no in between. That’s the problem. You can’t plan for a better roster if part of the plan is a dice roll with Guty… Because Guty absolutely requires that a backup plan be in place. And… A backup plan at the very position where this team has the worst depth (both in the OF, AND CF specifically).

    Guty is still one of my favorite M’s (I have his jersey– only one I own)… But it’s over for me. There’s no reason to believe that a guy with his history is gonna have a better couple years ahead of him, as he crosses the “declining talents” barrier. A “decline” for Guty is gonna be sadly close to a funeral, is what I fear. Knock on wood.

    I can still think fondly of Guty if he goes somewhere else and succeeds with close to a full season of time… Yet, if he stays, and falters again physically, my opinion will keep getting damaged. And I don’t wanna see that. I’d rather watch the first option happen.

  37. jjracoon on November 5th, 2013 6:22 am

    While Guti gave us some spectacular moments and a hope for a future of more, it is time to put together a starting outfield without Guti.

    Noticed that Reed Johnson was cut free. He seems like the perfect bench back up outfielder for the start against lefties and occasional pinch hitting. He can produce in that roll and shouldnt cost very much so the big pieces can still be added to outfield.

  38. MarioMangler on November 5th, 2013 8:09 am

    I actually have a very similar condition to ankylosing spondylitis, so I know full well the kind of challenge that Guti is going to face over the next couple of years. You get hurt all the time, and often because of the smallest things. As someone who deals with this every day, and has for nearly a decade, it is really annoying.

    Because of this, I certainly wouldn’t sign me to a contract, and I wouldn’t want the M’s to commit any long term money to someone like that either. It’s nice that Guti looks good on paper, of course, he has always looked good on paper. But this isn’t a condition that will ever make you a reliable athlete. Coming from someone who knows this.

    I will miss you, Guti. Well, I hope that I will miss you.

  39. eponymous coward on November 5th, 2013 8:27 am

    Guti would be an OK sign as a 4th OFer, as long as he isn’t being relied upon day to day. The problem is the Mariners have about 1 passable corner OFer in Saunders, and you have to squint and do some handwaving to call Almonte or Ackley a second OFer, and to be honest, I think Almonte is a better guy for a 4th OFer position- young, can cover multiple positions, did enough in the fall and Tacoma that I’d be willing to try it out. (I think neither Saunders or Almonte are really CFers, and Guti isn’t a full time CFer any more, either… and Ackley should go back to 2B.)

    If this Mariner team had a settled OF, sure, sign him up. But having a guy who might give you 50 PAs or 450, you don’t have a clue, in the 2014 M’s OF as it stands? I don’t think that works.

  40. mossi on November 11th, 2013 12:51 pm

    Bring back Chavez.

  41. bongo on November 13th, 2013 6:50 pm

    “Look at the crap Seattle has in their outfield”

    [BA] Unfortunately, the “crap” is actually better than some of the free agents GMZ is rumored to be interested in signing.

    In terms of players currently on the 40 man, Michael Saunders had a 1.3 WAR seasons in 2013 and Abraham Almonte was worth 0.2 WAR in 82 PAs. Both can be had at bargain prices. In contrast, Nelson Cruz had a 2 WAR season in Texas, but will cost upwards of $10 million/year. Have things gotten so bad we need to pay $10 million for less than 1 WAR?

    I think not!

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