BY John Hickey 11:12AM 08/06/2011

Hickey: Mariners focusing on center field

With the additions of Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson in the last week, Franklin Gutierrez is no longer the only option in center for Seattle.

Franklin Gutierrez has some competition in center field for the final two months of the season. / Getty Images

With all the emphasis that has been placed on the Mariners’ rotten hitting and occasionally spectacular hitting, not all that much focus has been placed on the Seattle defense.

The trades of the last week have changed that, particularly in the outfield. Center fielders are almost by definition the best defenders, and Seattle is loading up on center fielders.

The lineup manager Eric Wedge put on the field Friday night in Angel Stadium included four potential center fielders – well, three, because Ichiro Suzuki, who has been in center in the past and who generally plays center in the All-Star Game when he’s selected, doesn’t have to move there any more – and it won’t be the last time that’s true in the 2011 season’s final 51 games.

Franklin Gutierrez, the defending Gold Glove winner, was the man actually in center field, and rookie Trayvon Robinson, making his big league debut was in left, leaving the DH spot for another newcomer, Casper Wells.

Robinson is a fabulous defender, as anyone watching Friday’s game saw. Robinson raced to the left field wall and got most of his upper body over the low barrier to take away a two-run homer from Torii Hunter in the third inning.

And while he was the DH Friday, Wells is a center fielder by trade, and he’s looked the part while playing in right (once) and left (thrice) in his first four starts.

The question now is what this means for the Mariners going forward. Gutierrez, acquired along with Friday night starter Jason Vargas in the three-way J.J. Putz deal with the Mets and the Indians at the 2008 Winter Meetings, has been a fan favorite in his three years with Seattle, but after a .283 debut season with the Mariners that included 18 homers, he’s battled a stomach illness that has taken much of his game away.

He hit just .245 with 11 homers last season and came into Friday just .199 with just homer in 63 games after missing the first 41 games of the season. Wedge has moved him in and out of the lineup in an effort to get his offense going, but until the last week, there wasn’t much happening.

Wedge can now use the last two months to see what the Mariner prospects in center and left can be going forward. Mike Carp, who was the first baseman Friday, will be in the mix in left, as will current minor leaguers Carlos Peguero and Greg Halman (another center field possibility). Michael Saunders, the center fielder for much of the first month, is now with Peguero and Halman at Tacoma, and he has to be factored into the equation.

But for now, Saunders, Peguero and Halman aren’t part of the immediate equation.

“We’ll mix and match with our young kids in left field, give Guti a day from time to time in center and, obviously, there’s the DH spot, too,’’ Wedge said. “With Carp being able to play some first base, that helps us out a little – especially with (Justin) Smoak day to day (left thumb injury), right now. So we’ll work to get them all in there.’’

And what they show will help determine their futures. Some of these players are likely to be traded away between now and the start of spring training next February, and Gutierrez, who came into the season as one of the club’s rising signature players – he got his own television commercial, after all, an honor that no other player had this year – could be the odd man out if Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik and Wedge both like what they see from the other center field candidates.


  • Michael Kaiser

    Ya, but I saw Gutierrez make the most incredible catch at the game Monday night.  Or at least it seemed that way to me.  That was before I departed in the fourth inning or so.  Ya, they need to do something to shake things up in a BIG way.

  • SeattleNative

    Don’t forget Larry Bernandez.

  • Levi Penick

    I think you undersell the Putz deal.  It brought back Gutierrez, Vargas, AND Carp.