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January 8, 2010 at 1:31 PM

Franklin Gutierrez says Mariners look good on paper, but need to deliver on the field

Franklin Gutierrez has come a long way in just over a year, going from a guy being squeezed out of a spot in Cleveland to a $20-million player courtesy of a four-year extension announced today. I asked GM Jack Zduriencik privately about ongoing discussions with Felix Hernandez and he told me that talks continue, but “it takes two to tango.”
I also asked Zduriencik about whether deals like this one with Gutierrez were looked at with Hernandez — who has the same agents and is also from Venezuela — in mind, he told me that yes, it was. Zduriencik said that, as a team, you try to lock up as many talented players as possible in the hopes that other talented players (i.e. Hernandez in this case) will follow suit.
In any event, it was a big day for Gutierrez, who talked about growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, where his parents, Franklin Sr. and Leida, were always buying him gloves or a bat, or taking him to baseball games at a young age.
He thanked them for their support, adding that both cried when he phoned home to tell them the news of his big deal.
Gutierrez played for Cleveland during that team’s 2007 playoff run, when it came a win away from the World Series. He was also with them in 2008, when the division favorites fell flat on their collective faces.
I asked Gutierrez what he learned from that experience and what he’d advise his Seattle teammates — now favored to compete for the AL West crown — about the pressure of dealing with heightened expectations.
“On paper, you can look like the best team in the world,” he said. “But when you go out there, you have to do your job. Because it’s baseball. Anything can happen. Like you say, in ’07 we almost went to the World Series…in ’08 we didn’t do anything. That’s what I’m saying. It’s just baseball. I hope this year, in Seattle, we’re better than last year. I think we improved a lot and this year, we’re going to try to do the best that we can.”

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Ultimately, he said, that’s the key to success in this game.
“I think we have some great additions this year,” he said. “A lot of new players and great players. On paper, you can see that we have a great chance to win the division. The thing is that we just need to go out there and play our game. Everybody needs to concentrate on what we are doing. And if we’re doing all thew things right, we can win the division. But we need to go step-by-step and try to concentrate on what we are doing.”
In Cleveland, he said, the yeat they made the playoffs was largely because everybody’s goal was to “try to stay with the process and play the game hard.”
It worked in 2007, as we mentioned. Not in 2008. We’ll see what happens from here.
Gutierrez said he has no idea what he’ll do with his newfound wealth, mentioning offhand that he might look at a condo in Seattle, but nothing certain.
He said the money, while important for his family’s security, was somewhat secondary and that he loves the feeling of “family” he got with last year’s squad.
Gutierrez credited a subtle change in his batting stance for his offensive improvement shown in 2009. I asked him about his knees, which plagued him since the start of spring training last season and continued to be wrought with tendinitis as the year progressed.
“It feels great now,” he said. “This year was a little different from other years because I didn’t play winter ball in Venezuela. So, it was different because of that. The good thing is, I took some rest and that was very important for me because I played 152 games last year. It was the first time I’d played so many games. I feel like I rested a lot and that I’m going to be better for spring training this year.”
Zduriencik clearly expects Gutierrez to grow on the offensive side of things.
“A center fielder that can hit 20 home runs is pretty special, and can play the kind of defense that he plays,” Zduriencik said. “When you look at this guy, who hit 18 home runs last year in really his really first full season as being a pure center fielder…maturation is going to work to his favor. because he’s going to get stronger just because of the maturation process. He’s going to get more familliar with the pitching around the league, he’s playing every single day. So, all of those things bode well for him.”



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