Once upon a time, a young, spry Franklin Gutierrez fearlessly roamed the vast stretches of green centerfield in Seattle’s spacious Safeco Field, acting as somewhat of a tyrant to opposing hitters. He was so good out there that the late, great Dave Niehaus felt compelled to give him a fitting nickname: Death To Flying Things.
The season he picked up said nickname turned out to be his best season to date, as he would put up 6.0 fWAR on the strength of that amazing defense and a not too shabby year at the dish, slashing .283/.339/.425 with a 104 wRC+, smacking 18 home runs and stealing 16 bases. It looked like then Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik had picked up a superstar, one who would be entering his prime under team control for many years to come.
Things don’t always turn out the way we envision them, however, and in Gutierrez’s case, one crazy diagnosis after another alongside countless, mounting injuries threatened to derail his career entirely. Of the 486 games the Mariners played between 2011 and 2013, Gutierrez only managed to appear in 173 of them. He didn’t play at all in 2014, taking the year off in a desperate bid to get healthy.
When he returned in 2015, he was not the graceful swan of yesteryear. His defensive prowess had dipped to the point where he was better suited to a corner outfield spot, much as what happens to other players who have aged. The Mariners also limited his playing time, also prudent for a player who has been through what Gutierrez has been through.
In the playing time he did receive, Gutierrez showed that he still had one very useful quality remaining. He tattoos lefties with great frequency:
Our friend JT Morgan over at Draysbay did a nice job summarizing Gutierrez’s value when explaining why the Rays should look into inking Gutierrez:
“Franklin Gutierrez has been one of the best bats in all of Major League Baseball against LHP as he’s hit .293/.368/.548 and put up a 151 wRC+ over 329 plate appearances the last two seasons. That ranks eleventh in all of baseball during that time period with at least 300 plate appearances.”
Morgan wants the Rays to get Gutierrez his ABs in the outfield. The Marlins could offer that as well, but of course the more pressing need for right-handed at bats is at first base in a platoon role with Justin Bour, and there’s the rub.
Franklin Gutierrez is not a first baseman. He hasn’t logged a single inning at first base in professional ball.
In a similar vein, Christian advocated yesterday that the Marlins play Ichiro! at first. It’s not a bad idea for an in-house option; as he explained, Ichiro! has a career-long propensity for hitting lefties well. That being said, Ichiro! is also expected to be the primary back-up for all three outfield positions and it might behoove the Fish not to put too much on his plate, as he’s been forced into regular playing time each of the past two seasons to the ultimate detriment of his bat.
Moving a non-first baseman to the first base position isn’t a novel concept by any means, many teams have done it historically in order to keep a productive bat in the line-up (who might be, conversely, declining on the defensive side of things). Former Marlins Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez have both made a successful transition.
You may be asking at this point if Gutierrez is even interested in playing first base. I think it’s important to remember how close Gutierrez came to not being able to play at all. He understands more than most how precious the time one gets to spend in the majors is, and has embraced his role as a part-timer. Now, in 2017 and about to turn 34, if he wants a job that is going to keep him playing, he would have to strongly consider a position change. He’s likely to come relatively cheap as well, having signed with Seattle last season for a $1.5 million dollar deal laden with incentives, most of which he did not reach.
With the likes of Mike Napoli and Chris Carter recently off the table, it’s clear that if the Fish want to have an impact bat for that first base platoon role that they’re going to have to think outside of the box. Franklin Gutierrez is the best fit left on the market. Death To Southpaws doesn’t have quite the ring to it that his previous nickname had, but it still might help Miami win some ballgames.
Go get him, Marlins.