Given a chance to sign a veteran outfielder who can play both corner outfield spots, produce off the bench, mentor younger players and has proven to be on the upswing following a battle with illness, Jerry Dipoto didn’t hesitate.
Today Dipoto announced that he has re-signed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (who was a free agent) to a 2016 contract. (See full release below).
Gutierrez, 32, had a bounce back season in 2015 after missing all of 2014 as he battled the effects of ankylosing spondylitis (AS, a form of chronic inflammation of the spine and of the sacroiliac joints). Gutierrez battled several injuries and AS during a three-season span from 2011-2013 that allowed him to appear in only 173 of 486 team games, while making six separate trips to the disabled list.
However, he rejoined the Mariners in spring training in 2015, and hit .317 (57×180) in 48 games with AAA Tacoma. After being recalled from the Rainiers on June 24, Guti hit .292 (50×171) with 27 runs, 11 doubles, 15 home runs and 35 RBI while posting a .620 slugging percentage. (His slugging percentage trailed only Bryce Harper among all players with 150 or more at bats last season). Gutierrez hit .309 (34×110) in his final 35 games (August 4-end of season) and his total 1 home run per every 11.4 at-bats was the second-best HR/AB ratio in the Majors (behind Giancarlo Stanton).
After a season away contemplating life and baseball, Franklin Gutierrez is back playing the game he loves.
By Scott Holter
The following article is from the September issue of Mariners Magazine. Pick up yours today at any Mariners Team Store, or subscribe to receive all six issues (April-September), plus a free 2015 Mariners Yearbook, delivered to your home or office. Each issue is filled with great action photography, up to date news, player stats and feature interviews.
With 20 minutes worth of batting cage sweat still dripping from his brow, Franklin Gutierrez leans back in a chair, hands buckled behind his head, and flashes a trademark smile.
It’s three hours before first pitch and the 32-year-old outfielder nods to his clubhouse neighbor and fellow Venezuelan Felix Hernandez as he explains how grateful he is to be back in baseball and back with Seattle.
“To see my friends and to be playing with them again, it’s huge for me.”
“It’s just a blessing to be playing professional baseball again, and especially with the team I love,” said Gutierrez, who joined the Mariners in late June after spending the first three months at Triple A Tacoma. “I don’t have the words to explain it: all the fans, the city, the ballpark. I just want to win here. They treated me so well. I feel comfortable [in Seattle].”
A Year in the Making
Gutierrez was feeling anything but comfort when he informed the organization just before the start of Spring Training in 2014 that he would have to miss the season due to a chronic arthritic condition that had zapped his strength, his balance and his ability to bounce back on a daily basis.
So instead of spending the season in Seattle with his friends and teammates, the native of Caracas, Venezuela was at home in Boca Raton, Fla., getting in quality time with his wife and son rarely afforded to baseball players. At the same time, he was longing to get back on the diamond.
“I went to the gym every day and kept up with the team, but I didn’t do anything [baseball related] until about August,” he recalled. “Then I started swinging the bat again, running and getting my body ready for winter ball. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could play baseball again. I thought if I could get on the field, a team might want to sign me.”
That team was the one that knew him best. The Mariners again inked Gutierrez to a minor league deal last January, ticketing him for Tacoma in hopes of kick starting his journey back to the Big Leagues.
“When [camp] first started, it was hard,” admitted Gutierrez. “Waking up early every day and getting into the routine again. I knew that I had to go to Tacoma before I would play [in Seattle], to work on my hitting, my body and my legs. I guess the hard work paid off.”
Gutierrez hit .317 in 48 games with the Rainiers, with seven homers and 31 RBIs, while mostly patrolling the corner outfield positions.
“He’s finding ways to contribute and has really been a huge bonus for us.”
“When I got the call up I felt like a rookie again,” said Gutierrez. “There were a lot of emotions going on. When you work hard and accomplish something you set out to accomplish, it’s great. To see my friends and to be playing with them again, it’s huge for me.”
Return to Form
Gutierrez is now a platoon corner outfielder, finding his way in the starting lineup exclusively against lefties. Still, he prepares the same way as when he was known as “Death To Flying Things,” the moniker bestowed on him by legendary announcer Dave Niehaus for Gutierrez’s ability to chase down baseballs in Safeco Field’s outfield.
His appearance is similar to when he first joined Seattle in a trade from Cleveland in 2009 — lean and muscular — though he admits being up 15 pounds to about 210. His current pregame routine is a series of exercises geared to keep his body loose and mind at ease.
“I don’t do weights as much as before because I get too stiff,” he said. “My body has changed a bit. I do light weights and a lot of balancing exercises, working on the small muscles as opposed to the big muscles.
“I still have to deal with stiffness every day, sore heels, lower back. But I know I have to keep going. I know my body a lot better and I know what I have to do to recover.”
Though he hit 18 home runs for the Mariners and knocked in 70 runs six years ago, Gutierrez actually feels like he has more power these days. Two particular round-trippers are already at the top of the Mariners 2015 highlight reel: a pinch-hit grand slam to help beat the Tigers on July 21, and a 10th-inning game-winning homer over Toronto five days later.
It’s not hard to find praise for his efforts from teammates. Nelson Cruz is happy to be playing alongside Gutierrez after admiring his game for years from the other dugout while a member of the Texas Rangers.
“It’s great to have him out here, especially knowing what he went through to get himself ready to play,” said Cruz. “He’s finding ways to contribute and has really been a huge bonus for us.”
Gutierrez reflects on this season’s memorable home runs “because they really felt good, not only for myself but because they helped my team win. That’s what it’s all about. I know that if I contribute to winning, I’ll find myself on the field more often.”
Defensively, Gutierrez may not flash the gazelle-like grace of four years ago, but he remains a solid Major League outfielder with a flair for tracking down line drives and an arm that base runners still must respect.
“Being in the corners is not easier, but it does allow you to take care of yourself a lot more than if you’re in the middle,” said Gutierrez, about playing left and right field, as opposed to center. “Still, if I have to go after a ball, I’m going to do it.”
Appreciating the Opportunity
On this day Gutierrez took some early work in the batting cage, a routine that he started early in the season to reacquaint himself with his craft. He remembers it not taking long to feel comfortable again in the batter’s box.
“It was just remembering to watch for the fastball first,” he said, “because if you can’t recognize the fastball, then you’re in trouble.”
It didn’t hurt that Gutierrez joined the Mariners four days after another familiar face — Edgar Martinez — joined the organization as hitting coach. A month earlier Martinez visited Tacoma and offered advice to Gutierrez about his daily routine in the batting cage.
“What can I say about Edgar?” said Gutierrez. “He’s not only a great guy, but he has so much knowledge about hitting. He teaches us about preparation before every at-bat and works individually with everybody. You really appreciate all you can get from a guy like that.”
Appreciation is a familiar word these days in Gutierrez’s vocabulary, mostly for what he has accomplished in a season where many doubted that he’d ever see the Big Leagues again.
“When I got to Tacoma in the spring, I wasn’t thinking about anything,” he said. “I would just go to the ballpark, see pitches and swing the bat. I didn’t have to prove to anybody that I could play. I worked hard and made it back here, and I’m so happy because I love baseball.”
Scott Holter is a freelance writer based in Seattle.
It was a memorable week for Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez…
On Tuesday in Detroit, Gutierrez hit a pinch-hit grand slam to send the Mariners to a come-from-behind 11-9 win.
And then yesterday Guti delivered a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Mariners a 6-5 victory and a series win over the Blue Jays.
We’ll see what the next week has in story for Mr. Gutierrez and the Mariners as the club opens a three-game Interleague series tonight vs. the Diamondbacks.
Endy and Franklin are back!
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik announced today that veteran outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez have signed with the club as minor league free agents and will participate in Major League Spring Training as non-roster invitees.
Chavez, 36 (turns 37 Feb. 7), appeared in 80 games with the Mariners last season. He hit .276 (64×232) with 12 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 23 RBI while playing all three outfield positions. This is the third consecutive spring training Endy will be a non-roster invite with the Mariners.
A veteran of 13 Major League seasons, Chavez has appeared in 1,151 career games with the Royals (2001), Expos (2002-04), Nationals (2005), Phillies (2005), Mets (2006-08), Mariners (2009, 2013-14), Rangers (2011) and Orioles (2012).
Gutierrez, 31 (turns 32 Feb. 21), is looking to make a comeback after not playing professional baseball last season. Gutierrez last appeared in the Majors in 41 games with the Mariners in 2013, batting .248 with 7 doubles and 10 home runs. He missed 106 games in two DL stints with a strained right hamstring, April 23-June 21 & June 25-Aug. 25. Gutierrez battled several injuries and illnesses during a three-season span from 2011-2013 that allowed him to appear in only 173 of 486 team games, making 6 separate trips to the disabled list. He was an American League Gold Glove winner in 2010.
Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in Peoria, AZ on Feb. 20 (physicals) and hold the first workout Feb. 21. Position players are scheduled to report for physicals Feb. 24 and the first full-squad workout will be Feb. 25.
The Mariners Spring Training roster is currently at 57 players (40 roster, 17 non-roster), including 27 pitchers (7 non-roster), 6 catchers (3 non-roster), 12 infielders (3 non-roster) and 12 outfielders (4 non-roster).
Here is the latest edition of the Mariners weekly Winter League Report.
It is great to see Franklin Gutierrez back on the field getting work in (and playing well) after being limited to 40 games and 150 at-bats in his injury-riddled 2012 season. Gutierrez is playing for Leones del Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League and is batting .297 (11×37) with 6 runs scored, 2 doubles, 1 home run and 3 RBI in 10 games. Guti has hit safely in 4 of his last 5 games, batting .444 (8×18) with 5 runs scored, 2 doubles and 2 walks.
When Gutierrez took the field last week, something kept catching a bit of sunlight: the gold patch on his glove.
As a 2010 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, Guti receives a specially made glove featuring the Rawlings Gold Glove patch.
The patch may seem like a minor thing, but for those elite defenders who earn a Gold Glove during their career, it has special meaning.
“It is an accomplishment for me, something that I wanted to do for a long time,” said Gutierrez. “To obtain this prize, a glove that not everybody receives, that Rawlings sends with the gold mark for each player inspires me and makes me feel happy and makes me want to work more every day.”
While the glove is special, Franklin hasn’t taken it out on the field during a game yet.
“Right now I’m using it during practices to get it used to the games,” continued Gutierrez. “I continue to use the old glove with which I won the Gold Glove but when I feel the [new] glove is ready, I’ll use it.”
His current game glove, while still in use, has already been claimed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. When Gutierrez feels that it is time to move on to a new game glove, the current glove, the one with which he won a Gold Glove and set an American League record with 816 (and counting) consecutive errorless chances, will go to Cooperstown, New York.
“That is an honor and it is something that I wasn’t expecting,” said Gutierrez. “I’ll donate it with kindness knowing that it will have a special place in the Hall of Fame.”
Brendan Ryan, currently having a Gold Glove-quality season, found out just how cherished and respected those Gold Glove patches are when he received one by mistake.
“[It was] not the best experience ever,” said Ryan. “It was my first big league camp and I was one of the youngest guys there in St. Louis Spring Training. I thought I needed a bigger glove to be more of a utility guy and play some third base so I had a glove sent in. It had a gold patch on it like all the Gold Glovers are rewarded with and some of the Gold Glovers on that team didn’t take a liking to that and gave me a lot of trouble for that.”
While it would be tempting to keep such a special glove, Ryan did what any young player would do.
“I ended up having to send the glove back so we could get a regular red patch with Rawlings on that back there. I thought it was cool until I realized that guys actually earned those things and it’s actually really cool.”
Day 9 / Monday, February 20, 2012 / 36 Days ‘til Opening Night in Tokyo / 52 Days ‘til Opening Night in Seattle
Weather: We didn’t check the forecast so we can’t give you an exact temperature for today, but it was clear that today was the nicest, sunniest day that we have had all spring.
Quote of the Day: “It’s okay! I told him what was coming!” – Miguel Olivo to pitcher Josh Kinney after Alex Liddi hit a pitch off the very top of the 30-foot wall that is 410 feet away on Field 3.
The Day: Day 9 saw a continuation of live pitching after the regular routine of infield drills and PFP. The live pitching was by far the most interesting for fans and media alike. Over on Field 4, the Japanese media had the perfect photo opportunity. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was pitching, Ichiro was batting and infielder Munenori Kawasaki was working on reading the pitcher from second base. As you can see, it was quite a scene.