While the 2015 season hasn’t necessarily gone according to plan for the Seattle Mariners, it doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some good stories to come out of the Pacific Northwest. Mike Montgomery breaking out for a while, Hisashi Iwakuma‘s no-hitter, and Nelson Cruz‘s massive home runs are just a few, but there is one that no one is really talking about and that is the surprisingly good play of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
Gutierrez began his career with the Cleveland Indians and put up some solid numbers while patrolling center field for the Tribe in his time there. He lasted in Cleveland through the 2008 season before he was traded to Seattle as apart of a three-team deal.
In his first season in Seattle, he was catching anything hit his way in the outfield. He was so good out there that the late great and former Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus called Gutierrez “Death to flying things” because he caught everything.
From 2008 to 2010, Gutierrez was raking in fielding awards as he won the Fielding Bible Award for outfielders in 2008 and 2009 then followed that up with a Gold Glove in 2010, a season in which he had a fielding percentage of 1.000. That’s a perfect score for those of you who aren’t so mathematically inclined. In 2009, he also had his best season at the plate, hitting .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI.
After the 2010 season things started to go downhill for Guti.
Prior to 2010, Gutierrez played nearly everyday tallying 153 games played and 152 games played in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010. He was the Mariners everyday center fielder and it looked like GM, at the time, Jack Zduriencik, had pulled off a solid deal to get him
2011 was the beginning of his downturn. Gutierrez played in just 92 games that season and saw a lot of his talent erode with his body’s health. Coming off two of his best professional seasons, it was tough to see what happened to him next. Rumors were swirling that he was battling Irritable Bowel Syndrome which brought his weight down to 175. Gutierre was becoming weaker and weaker before our eyes. He slugged .273 and hit only one home run.
Before the 2012 season, he really opened up about his health situation.
“It affected everything,” he said of his IBS. “I didn’t have the energy to play you normally have, the energy to play in the outfield and hitting. It was obvious, how skinny I was. I was battling. I missed spring training, the first two or three months of the season. I tried to get back, tried to help the team, but I couldn’t do it.”
When 2012 rolled around he said he was ready to go, but that just wasn’t the case once again. 2012 and 2013 were almost non-existent for Gutierrez as he just couldn’t stay healthy if his life depended on it.
It started off with his leg, then his pectoral muscle, then his heel, a concussion that wouldn’t go away, a groin strain, and then more undisclosed injuries. That 2012 season Gutierrez played in just 40 games while spending the rest of those games on the DL or injuring himself again during rehab assignment.
Then in 2013, it all started again.
First it was leg tightness, then a pelvis issue, followed by a hamstring strain which he injured again in a rehab assignment and was placed on the 60-day DL. Two days after he was activated, he was placed back on the DL with another hamstring strain and finally when he was ready to be activated after another rehab assignment, he just stayed on the DL. There is no reason why he should have kept playing professional baseball. He should have quit, that would have been the easy thing to do. His body was deteriorating in front of everyone’s eyes and it seemed like it was just time to hang them up.
At the start of the 2014 season, Gutierrez made one of the best decisions of his career. He made an announcement saying that he was taking the entire 2014 season off to get healthy.
The Mariners seemed willing to give Gutierrez one last shot and that is exactly what they did. On January 26, 2015, Seattle signed him to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. No one really knew what to expect, but Gutierrez had one final opportunity to seize everything he’d ever wanted.
“Last year was hard, man, because without playing, I had too much time to think about stuff,” he said.
He sure would never be the same player that he was in his prime years of 2008-2010, but he at least put the effort in to get back to the Majors in 2015. There are so many words to describe his climb and fight back to baseball that I will let you decide on what word to use, but this is just one incredible story.
When Seattle finally pulled the string and brought him back to the big league club on June 24, no one really knew what to expect. Mariners fans thought they’d see the same injury-prone Franklin Gutierrez they’d seen for the past few years, but that just wasn’t the case. Manager Lloyd McClendon had a way to monitor Gutierrez and they weren’t going to push him to the brink in order to keep him healthy and be a viable right handed bat in the outfield.
As the season went along, he seemed more than viable. We saw that same easy, smooth swing that he had and while he isn’t the quite the same outfielder, he isn’t the worst one on the roster and I won’t name names for that.
So far this season, Gutierrez is hitting .317 with a 1.037 OPS to go along with 13 home runs and 33 RBI in 48 games played. He has his name in the hat for AL Comeback Player of the Year and if you look at his full portfolio, there arguably isn’t a better candidate.
Even though he may have been a disappointment through his injury years, there is no doubt that Gutierrez is an easy guy to root for now. Being back in the Majors and doing what he is doing is utterly incredible after going through all the adversity he has faced.
“To be back with Seattle again,” he answered when asked what his favorite part of being able to play after his long road back. “I really love this team. To be back with my friends, and all the fans in Seattle, I really appreciate all of this.”
Even though people may cringe and maybe even make fun of him whenever he has the look of an injury, Franklin Gutierrez is back and that is something to root for in itself.