Franklin Gutierrez: Can we expect something different?


Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It was a little bit lost in the Robinson Cano signing, but Franklin Gutierrez is back as a Mariner through the 2014 season.

I am somewhat apprehensive of this deal, although it is apparently very incentive laden up to $2 million dollars. So we can assume that the Mariners front office is equally as concerned that the Glass Guti might make a reappearance.

The biggest concern about Guti is that he seems like one of those players destined to ride the disabled list for his entire career. Between from 2011 to 2013, he played only 173 games for the big club in Seattle. The Gutierrez game logs from those seasons show a sprinkling of games through the entire season. In 2012 and 13 there were stretches where he missed 50+ games between appearances. It’s no secret that Gutierrez is injury prone and fans are apprehensive about his return.

In a strict monetary sense, Gutierrez’s contract from 2011 to 2013 earned him $16.8MM, that averages out to a whopping $97,182 per game he played over that span. (For comparison’s sake, Robinson Cano is averaging $148,000 per game on his new contract). It certainly seems like an incredible overpay for a guy who simply doesn’t play very much.

Building his new contract on incentives really cuts down on the financial burden the Mariners have put up with over the last few seasons. So at least in that respect, it won’t be nearly as painful to watch him ride the DL for extended stints if he gets bit by the injury bug again.

It’s easy to say that Gutierrez is just a glass skeleton who will inevitably make his way back to the DL, and in some respects it’s correct. Hamstring and oblique injuries over recent seasons definitely point to problems staying healthy and limber. But in some other cases it just seems like Guti is really, really unlucky.

Take this concussion from last season. After making a return from a torn pectoral muscle, Guti is welcomed back by a sailed throwover to first base that catches him clean in the ear. By the time he was up and walking off the field he looked like he had gone a round with Chuck Liddel, his ear had swollen up so much. Guti went on to miss 50 games with a concussion.

So now that he’s back for sure, and for a much more reasonable price, what can we expect from Gutierrez? Will he be the same unlucky player we are always seeing on the disabled list, or are we going to see a statement year from a guy who definitely has something to prove?

Gutierrez has been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is basically a degenerative arthritic condition that will eventually lead to spinal fusion. This is not something that bodes well for a major league ball player bent on hitting 30 home runs. According to Guti, he might be best utilized as a platooning outfielder to cut down on his playing time a little bit. The end of last season say him playing ‘three or four times a week, and that worked’.

That playing time at the end of last season was a bright spot for Mariners fans too. Through September he was able to hit .235/.261/.447 with 5 homers and 13 RBIs. All through 23 games. The sample size is small, but consistent with his batting numbers over the last 4 years (.241/.289/.363). What this means is that Guti has been able to come back from all of his injuries and maintain a respectable level of play. Rather than come back as a lesser hitter each time, whenever Guti is back in the lineup we are able to count on a guy who can hit with a reasonable amount of consistency.

On the other hand, degenerative arthritis and skeletal health issues (plantar fasciitis, hamstring strains etc…) might affect his play in the field. Guti was a Gold Glover in 2010 with the Mariners. That season he posted a 1.000 fielding percentage over 1200+ innings, and a UZR of 16.0. Since 2011 when the injury problems really began, he hasn’t played more than 320 innings in the outfield, and has put up slightly lower fielding percentages of .990 and .987. (UZR of -8.8 and -2.4). While those numbers aren’t atrocious by any standard, they certainly point to a decline in his abilities and perhaps some lingering injuries that have affected his range and play. Though, those were injury shortened seasons and the sample size is less than ideal.

The re-addition of Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners is a safe bet. It’s not an outrageous amount of money to pay for a guy who has the potential to be a gold glove outfielder and a 30 HR batter. If he stays healthy I see the potential for him to be a definite asset to a Mariners team that desperately needs to embrace platooning. Between Gutierrez, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, surely there is room for the M’s to build some specific lineups.

The bottom line is this: In the past Gutierrez has been incredibly unlucky with injuries, he has the potential to make a comeback, but may be limited to the amount of games he can play because of a degenerative injury. If he can stay healthy and is able to play 4+ times per week, I expect to see him as a definite asset to the organization, and at a bargain of a price.