Mariners Sign Franklin Gutierrez’s Uniform

Jeff Sullivan · December 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Last season, in admittedly limited time, Franklin Gutierrez slugged .503, with almost half of his hits going for extra bases. Also last season, under more hitter-friendly circumstances, Nelson Cruz slugged .506. Something to think about as Cruz looks for a contract that could build a modest arena.

Franklin Gutierrez is coming back, with a guarantee. A guarantee of a year and a million dollars, with another two million in possible incentives. If Franklin Gutierrez does everything — if he maxes out his 2014 contract — he’ll earn about as much as Willie Bloomquist. The latest addition to the Mariners is familiar, kind of.

You think about Gutierrez and you think about 2009, much like how with Erik Bedard, for a while, when you thought about him, you’d think about 2007. Let’s establish something right away: 2009 Franklin Gutierrez is dead, and like most dead things, he’s never coming back. You want to believe all that upside’s still there, because Gutierrez struggled on account of his health and he claims to have everything under control. The Mariners like the reports that they’ve seen. But Guti was 26. Next year he’ll be 31, and the current idea is that he’s treating a chronic and incurable illness that I’ll never be able to remember off the top of my head. That’s not a guy who’s going to get back to an old 100%. His new 100% is something very different.

Even for a normal, healthy player, you expect declines over a span of five years. You expect offense to get worse. You certainly expect defense to get worse. I looked at the top ten defensive performances from 26-year-olds between 2002-2008. I then looked at how those same players did at 31. On a per-600-PA basis, the players, as a group, were an average of ten runs worse in the field. Some example names are Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand.

Gutierrez has gone through physical hell, and he’ll never be all the way recovered. It stands to reason that’s taken a toll on his body. It also stands to reason that’s taken a toll on his mind, such that he might take fewer chances, he might be a little more tentative. Last year he didn’t quite look like his old self in the field, and that would be a ridiculous standard to hold him to. Also, Guti probably won’t steal many bases. Also, Guti has talked about how he’s most comfortable playing a few times a week. He can’t be that runner anymore, he can’t be that defender anymore, and he just can’t be that everyday player anymore. As much of a relief as it probably is for Gutierrez to have a diagnosis he believes in, it’s not a pulled hamstring. What he’s got, you can’t just ice.

Those are the reasons to be over Franklin Gutierrez. Those are the reasons to wonder why the Mariners even thought about inviting him back in the first place. A month ago, I never thought it would come to this. I was convinced the Mariners were through with the frustration, the broken threads of hope. But an opening developed, and an openness developed, and there are reasons to not be over Franklin Gutierrez, too. There are reasons to be pleased, and only a few of them are helplessly irrational.

Really, you can just look at the last Guti we saw. That version, feeling well enough, handled the outfield and hit for real power as a righty. When Gutierrez was ill, and feeling it, he had no strength when he played. His energy was sapped and he swung Jack Wilson’s bat. The last version had his weight back, and his strength back, and this isn’t about trying to make too much of 150 plate appearances. Forget Gutierrez’s actual statistics. Just focus on how a scout would see them — Gutierrez demonstrated real pop. Not much in the way of walks, but I wouldn’t blame Guti for feeling an eagerness to make up for lost time. The most recent version of this guy could hit the ball hard from the right side.

And the instincts that made Gutierrez so good in the field before shouldn’t have gone anywhere. His body will be slower, to move and to react, but all the know-how’s there. The ideal combination would be Gutierrez’s experience with Dustin Ackley’s tools or something, but as is, Guti still knows how to play center field, and he might be a little less tentative as he gets re-accustomed to playing.

Dustin Ackley isn’t a real center fielder. Michael Saunders is only a subpar center fielder. Abe Almonte is only a subpar center fielder. All these guys could cut it, but Gutierrez might be an actual center fielder, even if he’s not what he was. Remember that what he was was one of the very greatest of all time, so he could decline an awful lot and still appear to be gifted. Re-signing Gutierrez could simultaneously add a decent right-handed bat and the roster’s first actual center fielder. That is, potentially, some quality depth.

With almost no meaningful commitment. Apparently the incentives don’t even start kicking in until 250 plate appearances, so this’ll cost the Mariners almost nothing. The big difference between 2013 Gutierrez and 2014 Gutierrez is that the team was supposed to rely on 2013 Gutierrez. So when he went down, the plans went tits up, because the plans weren’t thought through very well. The Mariners aren’t making the same mistake, and if something goes wrong, or when something goes wrong, it’ll just be a matter of replacing a role player. I recommend they stash some no-hit burner in Tacoma, in case the team ends up without a center fielder again, but already there are more options. Franklin Gutierrez, when you don’t need him, is almost pure upside.

It all feels so similar to Erik Bedard. This kind of feels similar to Erik Bedard:


I don’t know if Bedard felt the same kind of “at home”, and Bedard was less pleasant of a person, but he represented so much upside, and when he had a chance to go somewhere else, he returned to Seattle at least in part because he felt loyal to the organization. That last version of Bedard we saw in 2011 wound up turning in 24 starts, with a 3.62 ERA and a strikeout an inning. It was a miracle he was even able to take the mound, and while he wasn’t what he’d been before, he helped more than he hurt, and he flashed those little glimpses. From time to time, Bedard would issue a little reminder that he’d been one of the best pitchers on the planet.

Gutierrez was once one of the best outfielders on the planet, and five years later, he’s re-signed with the Mariners for a year and a million. Jason Bay was awesome in 2009, too, and he didn’t work out a year ago, but then in 2009 Jason Bay was 30, and the year before last he slugged .299. Bay didn’t have Gutierrez’s story. Nobody has Gutierrez’s story, and that’s a big part of what makes him so damned impossible to quit.

What the Mariners know they’re going to have next season is Franklin Gutierrez’s uniform hanging up in the clubhouse. What the Mariners don’t know is who’s going to wear it, but it could end up being a pretty neat guy.


17 Responses to “Mariners Sign Franklin Gutierrez’s Uniform”

  1. shamus on December 18th, 2013 6:47 pm

    The unfortunate think about ankylosing spondylitis is that if Guti has a bad case (which he must do, otherwise it is generally controlled with standard anti-inflammatories) then the disease normally requires fairly strong immunosuppressants to eliminate the symptoms (joint pain and stiffness, and obviously in his case intestinal problems). This then leaves the sufferer immuno compromised. Not cool.

  2. MrZDevotee on December 18th, 2013 7:07 pm

    I can’t say I’m disappointed, but “apprehensive” seems to be the word. Like an old girlfriend you really REALLY were head over heels for, but she couldn’t shake a bad pain killer addiction… When she was sober, she was one of the most amazing people you knew. But it wasn’t often enough to make it worthwhile. Now she comes back, and is supposedly clean again, but you both know she’s just one slip up away from being over the fence again.

    Fingers crossed, you try to help anyway you can– and hope for the best.

    That’s how I feel about Guty. I was never head over heels for Bedard– even though I liked him more than most folks.

  3. TumwaterMike on December 18th, 2013 7:36 pm

    If they can get 100-120 games from him, it will be a good season for him and for the M’s. Healthy and in the lineup Guti is plus player IMO.

  4. Longgeorge1 on December 18th, 2013 8:22 pm

    I have never wanted to be wrong more than I am now. Good luck Franklin!

  5. F-Rod on December 18th, 2013 8:28 pm

    100 games of OF split between Guti and Bloomquist for 4-6 million is not a terrible idea.

    Bloomquist is a nice fallback of non horrific performance, and Guti represents upside potential.

  6. Westside guy on December 18th, 2013 8:55 pm

    All I have to say is: Welcome back Guti!

  7. Kazinski on December 18th, 2013 9:00 pm

    If Frankie can hit like the did last year DH him if he can stay healthy that way.

  8. Eastside Suds on December 18th, 2013 9:02 pm

    Guti may have been offered more somewhere else. Those around him may have been whispering that a new setting might be good for him. But he chose to stay at a little over the rookie minimum so he could stay home and help the club in his comeback attempt.

    I think this says volumes about the type of guy we all know he is. There is little doubt that he feels like he “owes” the Mariners after making all that money. And, the M’s have taken very good care of him along with a ton of patience the past few years.

    I’m probably getting romantic about all of this, but I so hope both parties can make it work and see a happy ending, regardless of the stats. Guti is a solid dude and an inspiration. Go M’s!!

  9. coreyjro on December 18th, 2013 9:08 pm

    Just think about it from this perspective. What other freely available player has over .350 wOBA career to his platoon side, a gold glove, a 6+ WAR season, would play his 31 year old season, and would actually consider playing in Seattle?

    If you said Grady Sizemore, pat yourself on the back.

  10. smb on December 18th, 2013 9:09 pm

    I love it, love Guti, love his game, and choose to believe he has no choice but to “regress’ to something resembling “health.”

    I love it. Welcome back, Guti!!

    Now, mock away!

  11. ck on December 18th, 2013 10:03 pm

    I am happy to have Gutierrez with the M’s. If he can play to his ‘norm,’ he will greatly help the team. I hope the bad voodoo is finished. Several of his issues were not inflammatory dz related: Hit in face by pick-off attempt, crashing into wall and jamming shoulder, straining pectoral muscle while throwing in spring training, etc.
    He is really due for a stretch of, Good Luck

  12. ChrisFB on December 19th, 2013 8:06 am

    I have absolutely no expectations he will be healthy enough to make it out of spring training. I don’t care that it’s a good deal contractually (it is) or that he can really contribute when he’s healthy (he can). I just think this move is a lottery ticket and does not solve the M’s outfield or lineup needs at all.

    If they can trade for a league average center fielder, to keep some guys in AAA that belong there (Almonte) and move some guys to corners that would do better there (Condor) and keep some guys out of the outfield altogether (Hart, LoMo), that would be spiffy. Rumors make it sound like they’re focused on catcher and pitching and that they think they’re done with outfield, though. I would love to be surprised here though.

    I am also mildly disappointed (but not too surprised) that apart from the surprising and happy-making Cano signing, this winter so far has been about acquiring 3 dudes with health concerns and WFB.

  13. PackBob on December 19th, 2013 8:40 am

    It’s extremely unfortunate that we missed out on Gutierrez’ prime years. We hit the low odds jackpot.

    Given that the Mariners still need several pieces, a playing time platoon of Guti is not a bad option to save resources for the other needs. Even though his history leaves doubt, people do recover after finally being correctly diagnosed. If this is so for Gutierrez, and no one knows until he plays, he would be a plus addition.

    Every player is a gamble all the time.

  14. goat on December 19th, 2013 9:17 am

    MrZ, the difference this time is that she isn’t actually your girlfriend. You get to enjoy all the benefits if she’s on, but if not…well it was only like taking her out for a cup of coffee. You’ve still got Cano and Felix waiting for you at home.

  15. Badbadger on December 19th, 2013 11:56 am

    I’m not really too excited about getting Gutierrez back. Maybe I’m not seeing things in the right way, but it seems to me that “buy low” guys aren’t generally as low risk as they seem.

    In these days when teams carry 12 pitchers there really isn’t a lot of extra space on the roster. People say “it’s only a million dollars and if he sucks we can cut him,” but it doesn’t seem to me that the issue is really the money. Choosing to go with Gutierrez also means NOT going with someone else for that roster spot. When he goes down, someone who is perceived as being less good then him will step in- less good because if he were better then he’d have Guti’s spot. If we cut him loose, he’ll likely be replaced by some replacement level guy or else they’ll shove Logan Morrison out there or something.

    It’s not impossible that it works out well. Perhaps we’ll trade Nick Franklin for a AAA outfielder who will turn up ready when Guti inevitably gets injured or something. But it seems to me that the “there’s no downside because we can just cut him for little loss” argument misses that we are going to go into the season relying on him to provide a certain amount of value and likely will have already used our best trade chips in the off-season, making replacing him more difficult.

  16. kfrei2 on December 19th, 2013 4:35 pm

    I’m irrationally happy to have Guti back. I’m not delusional enough to actually count on any significant contribution. I am fully prepared to have my heart broken again. But he was still one of my favorite players. I’m really glad that DTFT feels at home in Seattle.

    If he were blocking someone better it might be different, but the Mariners clearly do not have enough outfield depth even after resigning Guti. At this price, I’d sign a guy of his talent any day. Just start him a couple times a week against lefties, maybe use him as a late innings defensive replacement occasionally.

  17. seattlesonsofbaseball on December 22nd, 2013 11:19 pm

    What sidelined Guti last year WAS torn hamstrings. Two strained hamstrings that took a while to come back from. The ankylosing spondylitis wasn’t helping, as the inflammation and reaction was slowing the circulation throughout his legs, thus leaving the legs prone to straining. If he can keep the blood flow moving throughout his lower half, he’ll be fine. I know people with this condition who are in great shape and take proper care of their body and can live a normal life. If you don’t eat right, drink right, or take proper preventative care, you’re in for a world of hurt. I know for a fact Guti is going to be having some very effective preventative care this season, so don’t be surprised that he’s playing more then people imagine.

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