SEATTLE — Franklin Gutierrez had other offers. There were teams interested in his services and with similar contract possibilities. But when the Mariners offered him a chance to come back, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
On Wednesday, the team announced they had re-signed the oft-injured outfielder to a one-year contract. While the organization does not give out contract details, sources confirmed a $1 million base salary with performance incentives that could net Gutierrez an additional $2 million.
“There were some other teams, but I decided to wait for a little bit to see if the Mariners were interested in bringing me back,” Gutierrez said. “My agent called and told me they were interested. Formally, they offered me something and I didn’t think about it twice.”
To make room for Gutierrez on the 40-man roster, reliever Chance Ruffin was designated for assignment.
It was almost four years ago that the Mariners signed Gutierrez to a four-year, $20.25 million extension after what appeared to be a breakout season in 2009 when he hit .283 with 24 doubles, 18 homers and 70 runs batted in.
But over the next four seasons, he was racked by injuries, ranging from irritable bowel syndrome, a partially torn pectoral, a concussion, an oblique strain, hamstring strains and finally a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis.
He had a decent season in 2010, hitting .245 with 12 homers and 64 RBI while earning a gold glove. Then the injuries really started piling up.
Over the next three seasons, he played in just 173 of the Mariners’ 486 games. In 2012, he played in just 40 games and last season he played in 41, hitting .248 with 10 homers and 24 RBI. He actually played more games (44) on four different rehab assignments with Class AAA Tacoma.
Gutierrez understands the fans’ skepticism about his ability to stay healthy.
“I know it’s been tough all these past years, but I’m feeling good,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. I just want to help my team again.”
He’s heard the criticism and knows there’s only one way to change it. But it goes beyond that for him.
“I think it’s more proving to myself that I can be the same player I was before,” he said.
That might be impossible. The player who got that extension was an everyday, gold-glove center fielder with the 20 to 25 homer potential. The ankylosing spondylitis — a chronic arthritic condition — won’t allow that.
“With the thing I have right now, I probably can’t play every day,” he said. “But I feel like I can help my team in any way. Last season, they used me the last month playing three or four days a week and it worked that way.”
It’s a role that could be useful to the Mariners. Seattle needed a right-handed bat and outfield help and a healthy Gutierrez fits both needs. He fits as a fourth outfielder. He can play all three positions at a high level. He can platoon with Michael Saunders in center field or fill in as a late-innings defensive replacement for Corey Hart in right field. It’s a low-risk investment with the possibility of an above-average return.
“I feel like this a family for me,” he said. “I’ve been here for five years already. They know me. They know how to use me. I know the city. I know the team. The fans are very good. I’m really happy to be here with the Mariners.”