Mariners Sign Franklin Gutierrez’s Uniform
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:
Guti says he had other offers, including Indians, but once #Mariners talked to him “I didn’t think twice.” Says Seattle is home after 5 yrs.
— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) December 18, 2013
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.