Franklin Gutierrez didn’t want to leave the team that gave him a chance to save his fading baseball career. And the Mariners didn’t want to lose a productive right-handed hitter off the bench.
On Wednesday, the club announced that they had re-signed the veteran outfielder to a one-year major-league contract. Terms were not released.
After sitting out the 2014 season on the Mariners’ restricted list while dealing with the effects of Ankylosing Spondylitis (an arthritic condition in the lower body), Gutierrez signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners last season and was invited to spring training.
He began the season with Class AAA Tacoma, trying to re-find his timing after the year-long absence. He also worked on determining the best preparation, rest and recovery plan to deal with his condition. He joined the Mariners on June 24 and flourished as a platoon left fielder/designated hitter, making most of his starts against left-handed pitchers. In 59 games, he hit .292 (50 for 171) with 11 doubles, 15 homers, 35 RBI and a .620 slugging percentage — second highest in baseball.
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The 15 homers in 171 at-bats gave him a 11.54 homer-to-at-bat ratio — fifth-best in Mariners history and second-best in MLB in 2015 behind Giancarlo Stanton (10.33). Gutierrez hit .309 (34 for 110) with six doubles, 12 home runs and 27 RBI in his final 35 games.
He dominated left-handed pitching, but also was effective against right-handers.
Even with the career rejuvenation, Gutierrez is a different player than the one the Mariners traded for in 2009. He’s no longer a fleet-footed center fielder capable of making the impossible catch look routine. He’s now an average left fielder with limited range. He’s also no longer an everyday player, something he’s accepted.
“I think the way they are using me right now is the way I’m able to play,” he said in September. “If I’m going more consecutive days, that’s when I start to feel tired every day, and that’s when things happen.”
Gutierrez played in just 41 games in 2013, missing time because of two disabled-list stints while recovering from a strained right hamstring — April 23-June 21 & June 25-Aug. 25. From 2011-2013, he appeared in just 173 of 486 games, making six trips to the disabled list.
But the diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis and the subsequent treatment along with the reduced role have allowed him to play again. It’s something he wasn’t certain that he could do going into spring training.