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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 29, 2012 at 7:39 PM

No answers to Mariners’ center-field situation in free-agent market

damoncf.jpg

(Johnny Damon has had a great career, but he’s not the answer to the Mariners’ CF problem. Photo by Associated Press)

In the wake of Franklin Gutierrez’s unfortunate pectoral injury (here’s the column I wrote about the mood in camp today), a lot of speculation is flying about what the Mariners can do to compensate for his absence.

It’s a little premature, because if Gutierrez is back by, let’s say, May, the Mariners can fill in internally until then, and Gutierrez would still have five good months. But if his condition worsens at some point, then it’s a different story. Of course, their hope would be that by that time, someone from within, like Michael Saunders or Casper Wells, will have seized the moment and won the job outright. But if not, the Mariners will have to try Plan B (or C, D and E).

There would be lots of ways they could go, from moving Ichiro to center, to playing Chone Figgins in CF, to switching Dustin Ackley to that position (which he played in college), to hoping Trayvon Robinson has moved past his struggles of last season. None are perfect solutions, and some I don’t think they would consider for very long (like an Ichiro move). But I’m sure everything would be on the table in a worst-case scenario, including a trade.

Meanwhile, a lot of people are asking me if any interesting free agents are still sitting out there unsigned. Well, yes, a lot of “interesting” players are available. But I don’t see a one that would be the answer to the Mariners’ problem if Gutierrez is out long term.

Here, according to the invaluable website Cot’s Baseball Contracts, are all the free-agent outfielders currently on the market (although, as you’ll see, a few of them already signed and neglected to inform Cot’s):

Cory Aldridge: A 32-year-old journeyman who has played 13 games in the majors, nine years apart, and has a .056 average. Of the 1,380 games he’s played in the minors, two have been in center. Not sure who he is or why exactly he’s on the free-agent list, but cross him off. (Update 6:06 a.m.: Aldridge, who played in Korea last year, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles on Jan. 28).

Mike Baxter: The final sentence above applies here, too. He’s played two games in center since 2007, and never really distinguished himself at any level. And on top of all that, turns out he signed a minor-league contract with the Mets in December.

Milton Bradley: Uh, no. A thousand times, no.

Pat Burrell: He retired last month.

Ryan Church: He was non-tendered by Arizona after the 2010 season, and as far as I can tell, didn’t play at all last year.

Johnny Damon: The first undeniably intriguing name. Once, long ago, I felt that Damon was destined to play for the Mariners at some point. Early in his career, especially when he was with Kansas City, Damon was constantly attached to rumors involving Seattle. Lou Piniella loved him. But it never happened, and now Damon is 38 and played just 16 games in the outfield last year with Tampa Bay, all in left. The Yankees reportedly signed Raul Ibanez instead of Damon because they didn’t think Damon could play in the field. At this stage of his career, Damon is primarily a DH, and the Mariners don’t need anyone to take ABs away from Jesus Montero. I’m a big Damon guy, but he isn’t the answer any more.

J.D. Drew: He had a .617 OPS in 81 injury-riddled games last year, and by all accounts has decided to retire.

Darren Ford: Ford signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners on Dec. 2 and is in camp with them. The fact that no one is considering him as a CF alternative doesn’t bode well.

Cole Garner: He signed with the Yankees, whoever he is.

Vlad Guerrero: Like Damon, Guerrero is at the DH-only phase of his career, and a lot of people don’t think he has much left to offer with the bat. If this were five years ago, I’d say go for it. But not now.

Hideki Matsui: Pretty much the same story. Matsui had just a .696 OPS last year for Oakland, and hasn’t played more than 27 games in the outfield in one season since 2007.

Gary Matthews Jr. : He pretty much lost it in 2010, and didn’t play at all last year. I assume he’s hung it up for good.

Xavier Nady: Nady hasn’t had a good year for a long time, he’s had injuries, and he doesn’t play center field. Next.

Magglio Ordonez. : Ordonez hasn’t been the same since ankle surgery in 2010, and at 38, it’s probably not coming back.

Wily Mo Pena. Been there, done that. Besides, Wily signed with the Soft Bank Hawks in Japan in December.

Angel Salome: He’s a catcher, and an undistinguished one at that, so no idea why he’s on this list. Especially since he’s currently in the Mariners minor-league system. From reading his bio, I learned that Salome is the son of professional boxer Angel Beltre, who represented the Dominican Republic in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Adam Stern: According to his Wikipedia page, Stern was once dubbed “the Canadian Babe Ruth” by Trot Nixon. But, no.

Marcus Thames: He dropped off the face of the earth last year, hitting .197/.243/.333 in 36 games with the Dodgers. Thames’s career is heading in the wrong direction, fast. And he’s played 368 games in the outfield in the majors, none in center.

Jonathan Van Every: He slugged .517 last year — but it was with the St. Paul Saints in independent ball.

Randy Winn: Except for the fact he retired last April, and hadn’t been remotely productive since 2008, a viable candidate.

Unless we overlooked someone — and please let me know — the Mariners would be better off looking within their own organization, or trading outside it, than signing a free agent.

Who should play center field for the Mariners while Franklin Guiterrez is out?

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