It was almost four years ago that the Mariners signed Franklin Gutierrez to a 4-year, $20.25 million extension. It seemed like such a good investment at the time. He was coming off what appeared to be a breakout season in 2009 when he hit .283 with 24 doubles, 18 homers and 70 RBI. He was going to be the Mariners every day center fielder for years to come.
Fast forward to Wednesday when they announced they signed re-signed the oft-injured outfielder to one-year contract for a base salary of $1 million with performance incentives that could net him an additional $2 million. To make room for Gutierrez, the team designated Chance Ruffin for assignment. Ruffin made nine relief appearances for the Mariners in 2013 going 0-2 with a 8.38 ERA (9 ER, 9.2 IP). It leaves Charlie Furbush as the only remaining player from the trade for Doug Fister. Casper Wells and Francisco Martinez were also both DFA’d. So that one worked out well for the Mariners.
It seems like a long time ago since Gutierrez was thought of in such regard. Now the Mariners are bringing him back on the same deal they gave Jason Bay last season. It’s what any other team would have likely given Gutierrez at the most.
“There were some other teams, but I decided to wait for a little bit to see if the Mariners were interested in bringing me back,” Gutierrez said. “My agent called and told me they were interested. Formally, they offered me something and I didn’t think about it twice, I said, ‘yes.’”
Gutierrez has been plagued by injuries since signing that contract – ranging from irritable bowel syndrome, a partially torn pectoral, a concussion, an oblique strain, hamstring strains and finally a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis.
He had a decent season in 2010, hitting .245 with 12 homers and 64 RBI while earning a gold glove. Then the injuries really started piling up.
But over the next three seasons, he played in just 173 of the Mariners’ 486 games. In 2011, he played in just 40 games and last season he played in 41 games, hitting .248 with 10 homers and 24 RBI. He actually played more games (44) on four different rehab assignments with Triple A Tacoma.
“I know it’s been tough all these past years, but I’m feeling good,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. I just want to help my team again.”
He understands the skepticism of bringing him back.
“I think it’s more proving to myself that I can be the same player I was before,” he said.
That may be impossible. The player, who got that extension, was an every day, gold glove center fielder with the 20-25 homer potential. The ankylosing spondylitis– a chronic arthritic condition – won’t allow that.
“With the thing I have right now, I probably can’t play every day,” he said. “But I feel like I can help my team in any way. Last season, they used me the last month playing 3 or 4 days a week and it worked that way.”
Logicially, that’s the role where he could have success. Seattle needs another right-handed bat and outfield help. A healthy Gutierrez (yes, I just typed that) fills both needs. He fits as a fourth outfielder. He can play all three positions at a high level. He can platoon with Michael Saunders in center field or fill in as a late innings defensive replacement for Corey Hart in right field. It’s a low risk investment with the possibility of an above average return.
“I feel like this a family for me,” he said. “I’ve been here for five years aleady. They know me. They know how to use me. I know the city. I know the team. The fans are very good. I’m really happy to be here with the Mariners.”
Gutierrez said the issues with arthritic condition are better. The medication and maintenance of his problem have stabilized. He said he’s able to work out in the offseason and will begin hitting when he returns to Miami.