By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Standing in front of his locker in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse at Safeco Field, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez said he’s “feeling good” after a long bout with a handful of health problems.
The Mariners hope those good feelings last this time.
Gutierrez re-signed with the Mariners on Wednesday — a little more than a month and a half after the club had declined his contract option for 2014 — to a 1-year, $1 million deal with performance incentives worth around $2 million, according to ESPN Deportes.
Those incentives, of course, will be contingent on Gutierrez staying healthy enough to keep himself in the lineup. His list of previous injuries is more befitting a linebacker than a center fielder: an oblique strain, an injured hamstring, a partially torn pectoral, a concussion, all since the start of the 2011 season.
And that’s in addition to the most troubling issue, a genetic disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis that can cause inflammation and joint pain.
He’s taking new medication for that, Gutierrez said, and is hopeful that will allow him to contribute this season, which will be his sixth in Seattle.
“It was very important for me to find out what I had, so now I have to try to manage this,” he said Wednesday. “I’m under a medication that is working very well. I’m feeling more normal right now. And you know, just feeling good. Just trying to work on my batting, trying to be ready for spring training and be ready for any situation, whatever the manager needs me in the game.”
Right now, Gutierrez said, he probably can’t play every day. But he said that when he played three or four games per week before his last stint on the disabled list, “it works that way.”
Eventually, he wants to prove to himself that he can be the same player he was before injuries wiped out most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Gutierrez batted .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI during his first full season in Seattle in 2009, but played only 92 games in 2011, 40 in 2012 and 41 in 2013 while nursing a variety of ailments.
Gutierrez, perhaps the best defensive center fielder in baseball when healthy, said he’s willing to play any of the three outfield positions.
“Obviously, I need to talk to the manager. I need to know how he wants to use me. My mind is open to play anywhere in the outfield,” he said. “I just want to try to help my team to a better season this year.”
Gutierrez said a few teams showed interest in him, but once the Mariners made a formal offer, he “didn’t think twice.” He planned to play winter ball in his home country of Venezuela, but after attending his sister’s wedding there he decided to focus on working out in preparation for spring training.
The recent mega-signing of star second baseman Robinson Cano, as well as the addition of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, have some thinking the Mariners are trending upward.
Gutierrez is in that camp.
“Obviously, we have a lot of talent here, a lot of young players that are getting mature,” he said. “It feels like this year’s going to be different. I feel in my heart that we’re going to do better than the past seasons.”
Health-wise, he hopes the same is true for himself.
“Like I said, the medication is working,” he said. “I feel a lot better. It was a relief not to feel all the pain I was feeling before. But that’s something that obviously I’m going to know as soon as I start playing. I need to obviously see with the manager, too, and see what he thinks, how he’s going to use me. Just trying to prepare mentally and physically to contribute with this team.”