The Seattle Mariners don’t have very many players who are set to hit free agency after the year. There’s Hisashi Iwakuma, who seems like a lock to come back on a short-term deal. Joe Beimel is probably going to sign a minor league deal elsewhere, then latch on with the Mariners after being released in spring training. And then there’s Franklin Gutierrez, who’s suddenly as hot a commodity as ever.
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You know the Franklin Gutierrez story: once one of the world’s absolute best center fielders, Guti signed a four-year extension and then started running into health ailments. In addition to a body that was always some kind of bent or broken, Gutierrez dealt with severe stomach issues that threatened his playing career and his off-the-field quality of life. He sat out the entirety of 2014 before signing a minor league deal with the Mariners before spring training this year.
Since then? A mid-season call-up and the highest slugging percentage in the majors, somehow. He’s hitting .315/.369/.692. He’s got Nelson Cruz‘s BABIP and an ISO a hundred points higher. He’s given the Mariners 160 unlikely plate appearances of Barry Bonds production.
All of which brings us to a point we perhaps never thought we’d reach: the impending horror of Franklin Gutierrez, free agent commodity. Gutierrez’s last two trips to free agency saw him sign two one-year deals with Seattle, with his combined total MLB guarantee on those two deals at right about a million bucks. The Mariners didn’t even have to engage in negotiations until this spring because nobody else really wanted to take a look at him.
One of the things about the free agent market is that it’s not typically the place where premium talent is bought. Those players are more often than not extended well before hitting the open market, leaving the role players to soak up much of the free agency money. Anyone who’s got a modicum of use will get paid as a free agent. And Franklin Gutierrez definitely has more use than that.
Aug 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners left fielder Franklin Gutierrez (30) catches a fly ball hit by Texas Rangers right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (not pictured) in the fourth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Remember the part where I said that Gutierrez has the highest slugging percentage of any player in baseball? Yeah, that’s true, unless you set an irresponsibly low minimum plate appearance threshold. This year, Guti has packed more punch than literally anyone. Can’t play every day? Injury concerns? Bah. Who cares about those things. Some team is going to pay this man.
It might still seem insane, but the idea of a two or three-year deal is not at all out of the question. He’s almost certainly not getting another four-year contract, but hey, Brandon McCarthy did it under not-entirely-dissimilar circumstances. The cost to keep Franklin Gutierrez might be much steeper than it was originally estimated to be. And it might not be worth it.
But it might be! Gutierrez’s offense upswing is legimitate, as he’s just clubbing balls with the kind of authority that needs to be taken seriously. Shave off fifty points of average and OBP and he’s still an excellent hitter. And he won’t require the kind of contract needed to secure an everyday player. A lot of teams are going to see Guti as a potential bargain, even on a multi-year contract.
Should the Mariners be the team to sign him? Probably, but not at any cost. Gutierrez is a pretty awesome asset to have, but if a financial power decides they have to have him on their bench, then the Mariners should let themselves be outbid. The Mariners don’t need to fear an extra year or two on a Gutierrez deal – he’s sat out without pay before due to health, and the team has always been willing to give him a new deal even when times are tough. Why should things be any different after an amazing season like the one he’s having now?
Hopefully Franklin Gutierrez makes his way back to the Seattle Mariners in 2016. It might be on a contract none of us saw coming even a couple months ago, but it might be that such a contract is just what Guti deserves. He’s a special player having a huge “walk” year. What a story. What a guy.
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