Passing The Torch


In December of 2008, the Mariners acquired Franklin Gutierrez, among other players, in a three-team trade that sent JJ Putz, Jeremy Reed, and Sean Green to the Mets while sending Luis Valbuena to the Indians. The Mariners received Gutierrez, the key piece, along with Aaron Heilman (traded almost immediately), Endy Chavez (somehow still here), Mike Carp, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, and Maikel Cleto. During Jack Zduriencik’s tenure, this has been among his best trades. Turning garbage into gold in this trade, and the Cliff Lee trade.

Franklin Gutierrez went on to have an amazing 2009 season, had a solid 2010, and then turned into one of the most injury prone players in recent memory. Death To Flying Things quickly became Death By Anything.

During his tenure, Guti appeared on the 15-day DL five times, the 7-day DL for concussion once, and the 60-day DL three times. He was deemed out for the season three times, if you include this season being on the restricted list. He racked up injuries including, but definitely not limited to, a strained left groin, strained right hamstring (twice), stomach gastritis, a strained left oblique, torn right pectoral muscle, concussion, and of course ankylosing spondylitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Because what else? Anything and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong with Guti. Frustrating, because he was such an important part of our plans, as evidenced by his four year, $20.5M contract extension, with a club option for a fifth year. According to FanGraphs, his 2009 season was worth a contract of $27.1M, converted from WAR. That is comprised from a solid bat (especially for a center fielder), but mainly his mesmerizing defense in center. He was called Death To Flying Things for a reason!

The reason I bring up Franklin Gutierrez is not to make you sad, but rather to provide a comparison to a player that the Seattle Mariners are currently missing. Michael Saunders hasn’t made nearly the amount of DL trips as Guti (three times), but he has a list of injuries that undoubtedly rivals Guti’s.

Michael Saunders’ injury history
and more….

Franklin Gutierrez’s injury history
and so much more….

Before losing Saunders to injury he was enjoying a career year, posting solid batting numbers and plus defense in right field. He then injured himself swinging his bat, followed by injuring his oblique on a check swing (sigh) more than a month ago. In Tacoma, he’s missed time due to having a child (how dare him) and recently flu-like symptoms and dehydration. He’s generally been his own worst enemy, much like the popular 90’s song.

Upon his return, he’ll likely return to right field in a platoon with Chris Denorfia. Michael Saunders probably deserves to have more of a role than platooning with Denorfia, but Denorfia probably doesn’t really deserve anything at all. Michael Saunders is running normal splits for a lefty, as he’s been better against righties than lefties. Denorfia is running normal splits for a bad player, as he’s been good against no one. (My apologies, Christopher. I don’t hate you. I don’t think you’re this bad. You’re just an easy target.) Seriously though, despite ranking 9th on the Mariners in games played, Saunders has still ranked 4th in WAR, among Mariners’ batters. More of Saunders means less of Endy Chavez and more favorable matchups for Chris Denorfia.

Presumably, a Saunders-Denorfia platoon should be a good one. Although Denorfia has struggled altogether this year, he slashed .284/.355/.479 against lefties last year and had a wOBA of .363 and wRC+ of 136. This year, Saunders has slashed .275/.316/.472 against righties with a wOBA of .341 and wRC+ of 120. Both players bring solid to plus defense in the corners and they are also both not named Cole Gillespie or Stefen Romero, which is good.

Ideally, this marks the end of Saunders’ injury woes. Realistically, this is probably not the end of Saunders’ injury woes. The Condor isn’t a world beater, and he’ll never have the 6.0 WAR season that Guti had, but he’s a key role player that the Mariners will need down the stretch. If Saunders would stop selfishly having newborns and getting dehydrated/sick, he could rejoin us in our quest for our first playoff appearance since 2001.

Lately, Saunders has felt a lot like Franklin Gutierrez. Over his career, in terms of injuries, he’s not far off.

Please, get well (and stay well) soon.

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