We’re a couple of hours from gametime and Michael Saunders is getting a rare day off for the Mariners, having played 15 games in a row. Saunders has looked tired at the plate his last two games, so the rest comes at a good time. You can expect to see Saunders playing a lot of center field going forward, perhaps even once Franklin Gutierrez is ready to return off the disabled list.
Gutierrez was slotted to play right field last night for Class AAA Tacoma prior to being moved to the DH spot because of slick field conditions. He’s 2-for-8 with one RBI and one walk in two games thus far but has yet to play the outfield. I asked manager Eric Wedge this morning whether we should read anything into Gutierrez being slotted in right instead of center.
“We want him to play some right field as well as center field for a couple of reasons,” Wedge said. “One…I think it’s easier to stay healthy if you’re playing left field or right field versus center field. Two, Saunders has been great in center field.
And three…if he’s not 100 percent, then we’re better off with him in right field. Now, if he’s the Guti of old, 100 percent, then of course you want him in center field. But he just hasn’t proven that he can do that. So, we’re going to give him some time down there to work things out.”
Wedge said it’s critical that Gutierrez comes back fully healthy, meaning he could very likely use all 20 days of allotted rehab time before the team calls him back up.
“Like I told you (media) guys and I told him, too, I need him to be not just able to play up here, but able to come up here and play every day, steal a base and do some things. Because otherwise, we’re going to end up right back where we are right now.”
There’s another big reason the team needs to be able to count on Gutierrez daily.
“The fact of the matter is, there’s a good chance we’ll lose a player when we activate him, too,” Wedge said. “That’s real, too.”
Indeed it is. As we’ve mentioned before, Wedge has no plans to carry six outfielders. I asked him about that again this morning.
“No, we can’t do that,” he said. “You just can’t do it.”
So, that leaves a tough decision ahead. It also leaves the team extremely vulnerable going forward if Gutierrez or Saunders gets hurt again.
Right now, there is no way the team is about to release Raul Ibanez or Jason Bay given how they’re playing. The odd man out, if things stay as they are, would be Endy Chavez.
Now, if Chavez gets through waivers, then great. He can be outrighted to AAA. But there’s a good chance that won’t happen. We all saw how even an unproven Casper Wells kept getting claimed on waivers. A seasoned outfielder like Chavez, who can bat leadoff and is hitting .282, is going to be looked at by plenty of teams.
If the Mariners lose Chavez, their center field insurance becomes Corey Patterson, 33, signed a couple of weeks back to a minor league deal. Patterson didn’t play at all in the majors last year after hitting .239 for Toronto and St. Louis back in 2011.
Though he has big league experience, it isn’t as recent as what Chavez gave the Mariners and there appears to be a clear talent dropoff between the pair.
So far, he’s hitting .194 with a .533 OPS for AAA Tacoma.
That’s the guy the Mariners would have to call up to the big leagues if Gutierrez goes down again after the Mariners lose Chavez to a waiver claim.
Now, Wedge isn’t about to say who the odd man out will be once Gutierrez returns. But I asked him whether he’d be comfortable going forward with just Gutierrez and Saunders as center fielders in the majors.
“Yeah, I’m comfortable with that,” he said. “I mean, those are two fine options for us. So, I’m comfortable with that. Now, if something happens, then you might get a little bit thin. But again, you can’t cover everything. You know? You try to hedge your bets as best you can and go from there.”
In other words, if things stay the same, look for Chavez to be on-the-move and the Mariners being one Gutierrez misstep away from putting a big league uniform on Patterson again.
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