Franklin Gutierrez And Life
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.