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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

September 4, 2009 at 11:30 AM

The legend of Franklin Gutierrez should be forming right now

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Quick question for all of you still arguing a meaningless bunt strategy point from last night: which of the three guys in the photo above would you pick to start a brand new team with? If your answer was the guy on the left, Bill Hall, then you misunderstood the question, I didn’t ask who you could use to fill every position on your team. I asked who you would start it with.
The guy in the middle, Adrian Beltre, isn’t too shabby. But that’s also the wrong answer.
There actually aren’t too many players in all of baseball right now who you would pick over the guy on the right, Franklin Gutierrez. He has done it all on both sides of the equation — offensive and defensive — all season. Last night, we saw him club his 15th home run, then squeeze bunt home Jack Hannahan from third base in the ninth.
By the way, I’m not sure what all the discussion has been about over that bunt. No, it’s not a very rewarding move to squeeze home a guy with the bases loaded under normal circumstances. But these circumstances weren’t normal. The Mariners had a two-run lead in the ninth. Any added runs — whether three more or just one more — were going tro go a long way towards putting the game out of reach. Just out of curiosity (and please, let’s not hijack the discussion thread with this all day) what does Ton Tango’s book say about a team’s increased odds of winning when a team heads to the bottom of the ninth with a three-run lead as opposed to just two? For me, those are the odds a manager has to consider above all others.
Back to Gutierrez. The website has an interesting set of numbers that look at a player’s value. One of them is called WIns Above Replacement Level (WAR) and it assigns a number to a player’s combined offensive and defensive totals.
Guess who checks in at No. 16 in all of major league baseball in this category?

Yes, that’s right. It is Mr. Gutierrez.
So far, his WAR total is 4.8. That means he gives the Mariners nearly five additional wins above what a “replacement level” player would offer if he, say, went down to injury, or took off on a vacation to Belize or something.
For comparison, Ichiro is at 4.3, which is still excellent. But you might want to consider the salary cost differential between the two. Look, you can’t get 4-win players as cheaply as Gutierrez’s $400,000 every day. There just aren’t that many of them to be had. So, you have to spend on some. And teams with a handful of such guys usually wind up going places.
There are only four outfielders in all of baseball putting up a higher WAR score than Gutierrez right now. The only American Leaguer is Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, checking in at an astounding 6.5. The only center fielder in baseball with a higher WAR is Matt Kemp of the Dodgers at 5.6.
I can tell you that you won’t find Adam Jones anywhere near the top of that list. Jones is still a very good player, but has cooled off — as most expected he would — after his hot start and now appears lost for the season with an injury.
Some of you don’t like it when I compare Jones and Gutierrez. But there’s a reason I do it and it has nothing to do with “winning” or “losing” the Erik Bedard trade. Once again, I admit that the trade has not worked out for the Mariners. OK? Got it? Some of you need the same thing said a hundred different times in five languages before you start to pay attention. And if that sounds condescending, well, it’s meant to be.
Now, the reason I bring up Jones vs. Gutierrez is because of all the dire predictions of catastrophe I was hearing when the trade first went down. That if the Mariners didn’t “get it right” they would cripple the franchise for years to come because Jones was going to be a once-in-a-decade type of superstar. Hey, he very well may be someday.
But so may Gutierrez. And he’s looking like one right now. And that’s the point. Teams make mistakes in baseball. They get it wrong from time to time. But it doesn’t mean life as we know it has to end every time it happens. In the case of center field, the Mariners replaced their “once in a decade” center fielder with a guy who, so far, is even better than Jones. And it took them one off-season to do it.
Catastrophe didn’t strike. In fact, the M’s might be better off now than they would have been with Jones. And no, you would never have had a situation with Jones playing left and Gutierrez center, or vice-versa, on this team. Had the team kept Jones, it’s highly unlikely it would have made a deal for Gutrierrez. Or even hired Jack Zduriencik as GM in the first place.,
I can already hear the screaming about Chris Tillman and how he was also part of that deal. Yes he was, and as I said, the 5-for-1 deal didn’t work out for Seattle. We’ll see how Tillman pans out. If he indeed becomes a top-of-the-rotation guy. If not, should he tumble more towards the middle, the Mariners already have a guy who projects as that type of arm in Ian Snell — also acquired for very little.
As for the other guys, yeah, the M’s got rid of George Sherrill. But they also picked up a 34-save (so far) closer in David Aardsma for next to nothing. The other two guys? The fact that Kam Mickolio has made the majors is good for him, but do you know what? Jason Vargas and Garrett Olson, two minor acquisitions by the M’s this past winter, have also made the majors this year. So, what does that prove?
Look, no one is saying the Mariners should go out and repeat the Bedard deal, which has become Exhibit A of what teams should not be looking to do in deals — unless you’re the guy selling the one player.
But all of the doom and gloom forecasts I’ve heard over the past year and a half really haven’t come to fruition. Much of that has to do with Zduriencik’s shrewd deals. And yes, second baseman Luis Valbuena looks like he might amount to something with Cleveland, so Gutierrez didn’t exactly come to the M’s for free. But the addition of Gutierrez has indeed soothed the sting of the impact the Bedard deal might have had on this team long-term.
For all the Superman tales of Jones we were hearing back in April, right now, he comes across as Gutierrez Lite. And that’s something Mariners fans should be celebrating big time.
The players Gutierrez rates higher than right now? Well, he’s tied with Miguel Cabrera, which says plenty about his value. And he’s higher than Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, Troy Tulowitzski, and Ryan Howard.
Adam Jones is No. 101 on the list as a 1.9 win player. Hey, I wish him well in his career — he was a nice guy and all — but it should be obvious right now that he was someone who could be replaced. It should be clear that it’s time for fans here to move on. Or, they can keep griping about the past. Whatever. I’ve put up these numbers today to show you what is what on this subject. Let’s complain about other stuff. Like the catching situation now that Adam Moore is pushing on the major league door.
Life has indeed moved on for the M’s, at least where dealing Jones is concerned.
I’ve been all for criticizing the past moves made by this team. But in this case, it really is time to look ahead and not backwards. When it comes to center field, M’s fans are indeed witnessing the birth of a legend, as they’d hoped to do two years ago. Only this one has begun better than the one they’d hoped to see.



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