Maybe Franklin Gutierrez was your favorite baseball player in 2009. If that was you, you weren’t alone – everyone loved Guti, or, if you’d rather, Death To Flying Things. The fleet-footed center fielder for a surprisingly good Seattle Mariners team paired all-world defense with good offense on his way to a six-win season. He was the best player on the best M’s team in years.
We all know what came next – the $20 million extension, the unparalleled string of injuries and ailments, the down years, the comebacks, the first-day-of-spring-training announcement that he wouldn’t play in 2014… and the minor league deal to join the Tacoma Rainiers for the 2015 season. And now the latest wrinkle – a somewhat unexpected return to the major leagues.
With the Mariners noticing up close and personal just how much James Jones sucks (and with the release of Rickie Weeks) there was both room and need for Guti on the big league roster. Jones can steal bases and handle center, but Dustin Ackley can also play up the middle, and it’s not like this team’s formula requires a bunch of burners on the basepaths. So Gutierrez is here. He started in left field and batted second last night.
The biggest thing to know about this transaction is that while Franklin Gutierrez is back in Seattle, it’s not exactly the same Franklin Gutierrez from years ago. This Gutierrez is a slower, more self-aware Gutierrez, one who’s not going to play center field anymore because he’s no longer physically capable of handling the position. That’s what years of debilitating gastrointestinal issues will do to you.
The next-biggest thing to know is that even as a RF/LF guy without the world’s best defense, Gutierrez is still a pretty good player. When the defense starts to go, the offense needs to come forward a bit in order to keep a guy relevant. Luckily for the Mariners, Guti’s been raking in Tacoma – he hit .317/.402/.500 with seven homers in 209 AAA plate appearances.
Over the last few years we’ve seen Gutierrez take the field infrequently, but play well when he makes it out there. He has strong, abbreviated MLB stints in 2012 and 2013, and notably had an insane .255 ISO with the Mariners the last time he wore a major league uniform. There’s still something there. Gutierrez may not be a center fielder anymore, but he still has a good chance of providing the M’s with big league offense.
Gutierrez isn’t an everyday player anymore, which is all about health and not at all about performance. He’s going to play when he can, and it would be foolish to express any kind of shock when he ends up needings lots and lots of days off. He’ll be banged up a lot of the time. He may underperform at times, given that he’s constantly at war with his body. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Think of all he’s had to overcome just to get here, and be grateful for whatever it is he’s able to give this team.
Franklin Gutierrez is the face of perserverance, and for that reason alone it’s awesome to see him back in the majors and wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform once again. He seems capable of helping the M’s win a game or two, which simply couldn’t have been said about the guy(s) he’s displacing. Welcome back, Franklin Gutierrez. Welcome home.