John Hickey, who contributes baseball articles to Sportspress Northwest, published a post Wednesday in which he discussed the various center field alternatives for Franklin Gutierrez, who has been diagnosed with a partial tear of his right pectoral muscle. Gutierrez will likely miss a month and will re-evaluated weekly during his absence.
Gutierrez, who suffered the injury Tuesday while participating in a throwing drill at spring training in Peoria, AZ., had come into camp in perfect shape and reported that he felt better than at any point since 2009, the year before irritable bowel syndrome began sapping him of his energy and strength.
That, plus a strained left oblique, contributed to Gutierrez appearing in only 92 games in 2011, when he hit just .224, way off his Mariners high of .283 in 2009.
With Gutierrez out at least until the start of the regular season (March 28-29 in Japan), and probably longer, the Mariners have four options to replace him in the short term. These were Hickey’s solutions:
1.) CHONE FIGGINS: Ticketed to play third base before Gutierrez went down, Figgins hasn’t hit a lick in his two seasons with Seattle (.181 in 81 games in 2011 and .236 for his Seattle career). But, as Hickey noted, Figgins is “a great athlete, has great speed and can cover a lot of ground.” Figgins also played more outfield than infield from 2003-06 before becoming a full-time infielder.
A shift of Figgins to center would enable either Alex Liddi or Kyle Seager to compete for the third-base job. As Hickey noted, “the Mariners could get power from Liddi (30 bongs in Tacoma in 2011) or a higher average and on-base guy in Seager.”
2.) CASPER WELLS: Acquired in the Doug Fister to Detroit trade last season (Fister went 3-12 with the Mariners and 8-1 with the Tigers), Wells hit .326 with five homers and a dozen RBIs in 13 games. He might have been able to sustain that momentum had he not been plunked on the nose by a pitch thrown by former Mariner Brandon Morrow.
As it was, Wells saw action in 31 games, hit .216 and smacked seven home runs and drove in 15.
3.) ICHIRO SUZUKI: Ichiro has played some center field for the Mariners, although not since the middle of 2008, when he was shifted back to right, his original position with the Mariners.
“It may be that having Ichiro move back to the middle of the diamond would free up (Eric) Wedge to mix-and-match in left and right, and that might well make up for any defensive problems that Ichiro might have making the conversion back to center,” Hickey observed.
With Ichiro in center, Wells and Mike Carp would be used in left or right.
4.) MICHAEL SAUNDERS: This would seem to be the least appealing of the options, given that Saunders has yet to demonstrate that he can be a consistent major league hitter. He hit just .149 in 58 games in 2011 and is a career .196 batter in 204 games with Seattle, dating to 2009.
To help salvage his career, Saunders hired a personal batting coach, and has some potential for power if he can get his act together. Besides, he’s left-handed.