Franklin Gutierrez And Life

Jeff Sullivan · February 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Jesus Montero is kind of fat. Taijuan Walker’s shoulder doesn’t feel 100%. Hisashi Iwakuma hurt his finger pretty bad. Franklin Gutierrez is opting to sit out the entire 2014 season with a recurrence of his gastrointestinal symptoms. Pitchers and catchers reported to camp yesterday, and there will be optimistic feelings in the future, but there are no optimistic feelings now, only other feelings, and a desire to not have to feel them. The organization has had better weeks, and they haven’t even overpaid Nelson Cruz yet.

Incidentally, there’s construction going on outside. As a consequence, my whole entire building is shaking, ever so subtly but ever so noticeably. What I’m feeling is a fraction of what Franklin Gutierrez might be feeling every day, and this feeling’s unpleasant. The heart weeps for Guti, who’s alive and young and rich and unable to do the only thing he’s done since he was a child.

If you’ll allow me a moment to write pragmatically, unemotionally, the latest news isn’t so bad for the Mariners on the field. From an on-paper standpoint, Gutierrez had some upside, but now that job could be given to Abe Almonte, and there’s a lot to like about his skillset now that he’s no longer an active alcoholic. In Almonte, I see a good fourth outfielder who might make for a fringey starter, and if he ends up getting more time with Gutierrez out — Almonte, and not Endy Chavez — the Mariners should be about as all right as they were. Almonte doesn’t have Gutierrez’s strengths, but Gutierrez doesn’t have those same strengths to the same extent anymore, and Almonte is good at some other things. The short of it: I’m kind of fond of Abe Almonte, and I wouldn’t mind him playing.

But this isn’t about Almonte. This isn’t about Montero, who’s a non-factor. This isn’t about Walker, who believes that he’s fine. This isn’t about Iwakuma, who should hopefully miss only a few turns. This is about the latest chapter in the book about Franklin Gutierrez that only the most heartless of people would want to read. My sense is that, while we have a new chapter, the book’s almost finished. The baseball part, anyway. Gutierrez is 31 in a week. He’d be 32 if he played in 2015, and if he played in 2015, he’d have to get over the problems that have plagued him for more years than I’d like to remember.

Franklin Gutierrez might have to retire. Not today, not anytime soon. For now, he’s just going to focus on his own health. But it’s something he’s going to end up thinking about, and something he’s going to end up discussing with his family. Right now, Gutierrez is out at least until he’s feeling consistently better. There’s no timetable for when that might happen, since this is a recurrence of something he’s struggled with before. We might have seen the last of Franklin Gutierrez in the major leagues, and if we have, his last game saw him go 1-for-4 with a dinger. It was a shot to left off Bartolo Colon, Guti’s third homer in six starts, and that stretch was a promising sign that Gutierrez might be back to being a helpful all-around player again.

My hope is that Guti returns, even if it’s somewhere else. I’ve always been an obstinate Guti believer. My guess is that he’s finished. Maybe he signs another low-risk contract or two, but my guess is that his career totals today will match his career totals in a decade. It’s been a heartbreaking career, but from where I sit, I think at least there are twin consolations. Consolations that might help Gutierrez feel better in some time.

He did get to play to his peak. In 2009, over a full season, Franklin Gutierrez about maxed out his skillset, and his team won a surprising 85 games. One site paints him as about a seven-win player. Another site paints him as about a six-win player. He played like an elite-level center fielder, and he had a better peak season than the majority of players can manage. He turned himself into an area star. Mariners fans loved him and the team put him in a commercial. At least for six months, Gutierrez found out what he could be at his best. Because of that year, he was able to sign a $20-million contract, which can support a person and a family for an awful long time. Franklin Gutierrez made it, he really made it, once.

And it’s not like he had control over what happened. When something beautiful reaches its end, often, one is left wondering what could’ve been done to keep it going longer. Maybe there could’ve been this action. Maybe there could’ve been this behavior. Often, there are regrets, potential mistakes acknowledged in hindsight, and emotionally the reflection process can be interminably devastating, but for Gutierrez, this is a disease. Everything’s been out of his hands — there’s nothing he realistically could’ve done to avoid this. It’s not like he can look back and think he should’ve hit more. It’s not like he can look back and think he should’ve stretched more. He got sick, and it got bad, and there were some other freak accidents too, and as much as that makes Gutierrez terribly unlucky, it can be easier to cope with bad luck. Gutierrez isn’t staring ahead at a lifetime of blaming himself for a career that didn’t burn as bright as it could’ve.

You come to terms with bad breaks. Eventually, you come to terms with bad breaks, and if this proves to be it for Franklin Gutierrez, he shouldn’t leave behind many regrets. He played well when he was healthy. He continued to try to play when he wasn’t, and for stretches, he still resembled a high achiever. And he did make his money, which is one of the primary things that makes a professional baseball career so appealing — he hasn’t won a championship, and there was the potential to make many more millions, but he still made millions and in that sense he’s one of the fortunate ones. He’ll be able to support himself and other people and he’ll be able to afford care for his health. Ultimately that’s the point.

Franklin Gutierrez hasn’t retired, and the next time he might feel up to trying to give it a go, I’ll be right back there in my familiar spot, selling him as a high-upside roll of the dice. I’ll always want to believe in him because of what I’ve seen him be. He’ll never be that again, he’ll presumably never be close, but he was an everyday spectacle. Bad luck can rob him of his present and it can rob him of his future, but down the road Franklin Gutierrez might well be able to tell the story of his career with a comfortable smile on his face.


23 Responses to “Franklin Gutierrez And Life”

  1. Westside guy on February 13th, 2014 3:19 pm

    Good luck, Guti. Get well! And thanks for 2009…

  2. msfanmike on February 13th, 2014 3:22 pm

    Well done, Jeff!

  3. californiamariner on February 13th, 2014 3:38 pm

    Nice Jeff, thanks for giving us quality stuff to read. I know there’s not a lot of optimism surrounding this team, but we really appreciate your articles.

  4. PackBob on February 13th, 2014 3:39 pm

    Guti gave us one great year when he was arguably the best center fielder in the game. He has been both blessed and cursed, but I think more the former. He has more financial security than 99% of the world population. He has access to the best doctors. He has an organization that obviously cares about his well-being. He got to do what he loved most, even if for just a short time.

    I admit to being a bit selfish in wishing Guti had played more at full strength, that his physical issues come home to me most in that way. If I knew him personally it would be different. But we all know someone that has gotten a rough roll of the dice, and as I wish those I know the best possible outcome, so I wish the same for Gutierrez.

    Thanks for the memories.

  5. MrZDevotee on February 13th, 2014 4:08 pm

    For all intents and purposes, Guty did retire today. Hopefully, he’ll be able to Brett Favre a few more years out of retirement. But until further notice I think it’s most correct to call him retired at this point.

    Love the guy, and what he teased us with, but it’s prudent to plan on life without him (as it was for the previous couple seasons, via hindsight).

    I still can’t believe the luck of the guy, when he was knocked out of the game by a concussion caused by an errant pickoff attempt. I remember reading that and saying outloud “W*** The F***!?!”… Truly unbelievably bad luck. He had like 2 good games beforehand.

  6. californiamariner on February 13th, 2014 4:19 pm

    I remember watching that game when he was going back to the bag and the ball hit him right in the face. The guy had problems with the illness but it was unreal the bad luck he had at times. His 2009 will never be forgotten!

    He never won a gold glove did he? He should have.

  7. MrZDevotee on February 13th, 2014 4:22 pm

    In all seriousness, pretty clearly the new CBA includes a serious flaw when the idea to add draft pick compensation to “tendered” Free Agents went into effect…

    Good players are finding it difficult to sign contracts for market value. They’re being forced to eat the discount that teams figure a lost draft pick deserves. The idea of course, was to compensate small market teams who lost their best players, but the implementation has been ALL teams getting a discount on the free agent, at the free agents cost.

    Morales, Cruz, Santana, Jimenez, Drew, Arroyo (now signed) are good players (in the context of free agents), but no one will touch them for what they’re worth because of the “tax” attached.

    Same as last year. There will be a change soon. Players don’t like it. Agents don’t like it. And certainly there are teams that would have signed those guys by now if not for the draft pick attached.

  8. mark s on February 13th, 2014 4:26 pm

    For the short time that it was, Gutierrez was one the best gloves the Mariners ever had.

    I hope he gets better, gets healthy again. That is honestly the most important part of all this.

    If this is the end, I will remember Gutierrez fondly.

  9. SeattleSlew on February 13th, 2014 4:38 pm

    Its sad to admit it but I was almost expecting something to happen to Guti.

    I have liked Abe ever since he came up. I was not aware he was an alcoholic. I am rooting for him to succeed even more. Where did this news come from? Was there a post or an interview I missed?

    Its hard to imagine Montero any fatter or slower but I don’t want to even think about that.

    Iwakuma had a terrific year last season and no one should expect him to repeat it.

    This team still needs a SP and an OF not named Nelson Cruz.

    Good luck Guti.

  10. stevemotivateir on February 13th, 2014 5:02 pm

    It just hit me….. this explains Jack’s shift towards power-hitting, no-glove outfielders.
    He simply doesn’t want to be heartbroken again!

    Who’s with me on sending Jack a box of chocolates and roses, with a note reminding him that there’s other fish in the sea?

    Hang tough, Jack. Time heals all wounds.

  11. MrZDevotee on February 13th, 2014 8:09 pm

    Or Steve, it explains why so much of what Z does makes no sense… Because so much of what happens with his players doesn’t make sense… It’s a sympathetic relationship. Like the A-B-C song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star… Two different things in and of themselves, with different meanings, but they share the same melody.

    Poor Z. He can’t help himself.

  12. goalieump413 on February 13th, 2014 9:54 pm

    Nice piece, Jeff.

    Yeah, it’s a sad story, but that’s the rule in sports, not the exception.

    We did get to see him at his best though. Spectacular, predictable plays in the outfield along with a good approach at the plate. Speed on the bases too.

    What bugs me though: None of the durability issues are his fault. I mean, you’d expect injuries to occur, and there’s always a conditioning argument that you can make for some players. Not for Guti. Being out of game shape was never a consideration for himself, the organization, or the fans. We always saw him portraying himself at his best, whether he was hurting or not.

    This should be a lesson for Montero. Live every day to its fullest, and pray for the best results. Get in shape. Stay in shape. And if the baseball gods don’t smile on you for long enough, at least you can exit the game with dignity.

    I hope it’s not your exit Guti, but if it is, thank you for everything.

  13. JMHawkins on February 13th, 2014 11:28 pm

    He makes it onto my all-time list of favorite Mariners.

    Get better, DTFT. Whether you play again or not, just get better and be healthy.

  14. LongDistance on February 13th, 2014 11:52 pm

    We were all hoping, despite everything, that Guti would be able to play. And not just for selfish baseball reasons, but for him as a person. I think anyone who ever saw the way he played, knows he was the sort of person who gave every bit of himself. And he gives off the field as well. We all can share, to some extent, a portion of what must be extreme disappointment for him.

    In terms of the team, whether it was with him or without him, and side-stepping the Cano signing which brought in a short-lived surprise and half-expectation that the off-season would go crazy/crazy, the words that came to mind for the 2014 Mariners from the new year onward tended to run towards things that sound like “experiment”, “hope”, “possibility”.

    Jeff is right. There has to be a middle ground between euphoria (we don’t really get much of that, to be honest) and the sort of irritation the produces what seems like endless, cynical venting.

    But … pretty hard to find that middle ground, when disappointment is going on years now of sub-par baseball and team-building. Me, I don’t pay good money to go to Safeco field for the culinary delights of cold hot dogs and flat beer. I agree that there’s something nice to sitting in a ballpark on game day. But, and it’s my weakness, I do tend to actually watch the games. Last year was rough. I witnessed four really lousy, lousy miserable losing losses.

    And … it’s therefore pretty hard, and maybe not healthy, to just sit and watch all this politely, assuming smarter people know what their doing, and we just don’t understand what we’re seeing.

    This is professional sports, not a high school team that you root, root, root for. We go to watch pros play the sort of game we could only dream of playing. We don’t go to Safeco to watch a middling AAA team get clobbered.

    That said, I’m nearly back to attentive hoping again. Which is, really, the normal state of what Mariners fans tend to be when they’re not, and with good reason, griping. I think.

  15. maqman on February 14th, 2014 2:13 am

    Baseball can be cruel but without it we wouldn’t know how special Guti was on the field. His condition is going to seriously impact the rest of his life, in a bad way. I thank him for what he was and wish him well in what is to come.

  16. Breadbaker on February 14th, 2014 3:12 am

    In my closet, I own many t-shirts but only two with the uniforms of Mariners on them: an 11 with “Martinez” and a “21” with Gutierrez. In my office, I have two bobbleheads. One is of Justice Souter (look it up; these things are really rare). The other is of Franklin Gutierrez.

    Why the heck a guy who earned our hearts the same way Cammie did in 2000 should have had to live through the totally random things that have taken away what could have been one of the most wonderful careers of any Mariner is beyond me. But I’ll say this, the next time someone tries to explain something bad that happened to someone was because of some alleged moral failing by that person or someone close to him, that someone might find a 21 from a bobblehead embossed in his head.

  17. henryv on February 14th, 2014 9:07 am

    From the advice of Dennis Leary: “Life sucks, get a fucking helmet.”

    Didn’t actually work, Dennis.

  18. murphy_dog on February 14th, 2014 11:08 am

    Nice article today Jeff. And I understand and agree with your thoughts.

    And we’ll always remember one of the greatest nicknames for any player in any sport in recent years.

  19. tadster on February 14th, 2014 12:22 pm

    More tough luck for Guti.

    Any chance we can get some “Jesus Montero is kind of fat” t-shirts though? Great line, Jeff.

  20. Section329 on February 14th, 2014 4:44 pm

    Thanks, Jeff. It didn’t surprise me, but it saddened me that Guti can’t play this year. Get well, Guti and thanks for the memories.

  21. smb on February 14th, 2014 5:33 pm

    This news gave me that curious mix of completely surprised but not at all shocked, totally bummed but already at peace with it. I just HATE this for Guti more than anything. It bothers me that all the medical science in the world doesn’t seem to have a way to tame the kid’s IBS. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, a decade or so from now, to hear that he was never correctly diagnosed…I feel like I may well find a headline in 2019 that says doctors finally diagnosed him with some bizarre parasite or something. Just a total bummer.

  22. awakeling on February 15th, 2014 6:03 am

    This is so unfortunate.

    Guti should be featured in an episode of House.

  23. bbforsanity on February 21st, 2014 11:52 am

    I just read this article, am so glad it was here to read. I am a relatively new bb fan, and Guti was my favorite from the beginning. I have a child with a lung disease and know the heartache Guti and family are going through. Thanks for the article, it made me cry but it was needed. People don’t usually pay attention to the uncomfortable realities of life and how little control we have over terrible diseases. My thoughts and prayers are with Guti, and I have one Mariner shirt with his name on it.

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