BY SPNW Staff 02:52PM 03/01/2012

Who Should Replace Gutierrez In Center?

Before exhibition games even begin Friday, the Mariners have had a loss — Franklin Gutierrez. Vote here on your choice to replace him.

The Mariners have several options to replace Franklin Gutierrez in center, one of which is shifting Chone Figgins from third base. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

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.


  • Jordan k

    Actually, the dawgs 7-2 mark in league puts them all alone at the top, not tied as the article states. With cal and Oregon not playing til tomorrow, both remain a half game back of the dawgs.

  • ksmyth

    It’s way too early to choose.  Figgins and his fragile psyche are too tender to move off 3rd base.  If he’s going to produce let him stay there.  No 38 year old Ichiro in center after his defensive struggles in right last year.  The best thing that could happen is if Saunders shows his off season work lets him turn a corner.  He can definitely play center field, and I’m not sure Wells can.  The M’s are in a hard way. 

  • jafabian

    I don’t see Figgins playing it.  He isn’t the same player he was with the Angels and Ichiro isn’t what he was a few years ago either.  You need a player who can cover a lot of ground fast and climb the wall as well so that comes down to either Wells or Saunders.  Edge to Wells  at this point based on last year.