Reunions with friends can be quite fun, under the correct circumstances. Meeting up with high school buddies for brews and a ball game – awesome. Former roommates gathering for a board game night – fantastic. Ex-lovers, newly single after years apart, meeting again for a meal – possibly magical.
Under the wrong circumstances though, reunions can be disastrous. Meeting up with old friends with whom you last shared an awkward, unhappy moment can lead to unresolved transgressions that supersede the time spent apart. Take the same situation and add a jaded lover: I can almost feel the sharp, jagged points of contention digging into their skin at the thought.
Welcome back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back
At the end of January, the Mariners signed former Mariner outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training. As with the quandaries above, this begs the question: what type of reunion will this be? Let’s reacquaint ourselves with these men first and see what answers we can derive from our recollections.
Last season, Chavez returned to Seattle for a second consecutive year after first returning in 2013 after three seasons away with Texas and Baltimore. He once again proved to be a useful reserve, collecting 258 at-bats while filling in at all outfields spot and designated hitter. A batting line of .276 average /.317 on-base /.371 slugging – right in line with his career averages – showed his bat skills haven’t fully deteriorated, unlike his defense, which continues to grade out poorly due to lack of range. On the plus side, he has been praised for his leadership, mentoring and veteran abilities by manager Lloyd McClendon.
Though he was given a -0.9 Wins Above Replacement score, Chavez’s contributed a lot for the position on this team he was asked to fill. There are not as many veteran fifth outfielder types who are also willing to hang out in AAA for multiple months. Even fewer can still hit over .275.
Together Again, Again
Gutierrez, on the other hand, is coming off another lost season as health problems cut his 2014 at the neck, ending it before it even started. After his 2013 season came to a halt due to multiple hamstring injuries, there weren’t many expectations for Gutierrez, but there was still hope. The former Gold Glove defender and budding offensive spark plug has long lost his luster, rusted down to what? No one is really sure.
Just Like Old Times?
Now that these two are back in the fold, what kind of reunion can we expect from either player?
Best case scenario is Chavez putting up another season exactly like last year’s and keeping pace with all his career averages in regards to hitting and with no further regression in the field. This is far more likely to happen than a positive result from Gutierrez, who has more to prove than any player in Peoria.
Despite resigning with the team, there has been little fanfare made over Gutierrez’s improved health. True, he had been playing games in the Mexican League prior to this signing. But with little word on his ability to control and overcome two chronic issues of arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome, it is hard to imagine him enduring the rigors of a season, undermining any output he may provide when he is healthy.
While the 2014 Mariners team suffered injuries and ineffectiveness in the outfield, which directly lead to Chavez ‘s promotion from AAA Tacoma, the current outfield picture is full and deep. Left field will be run by a combination of incumbent Dustin Ackley and long-time Brewer, Rickie Weeks. Austin Jackson will man center field alone. Right field will feature another platoon, this time of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano.
That’s five outfielders right there. Add to the mix of returning youngsters James Jones and Stefan Romero, minor leaguer Julio Morban and former outfielder, current designated hitter Nelson Cruz and it would seem on paper that there is simply no room for either player.
But, as we saw last season with Chavez, sometimes the best player overall isn’t selected, but the player the manager and front office feels is most likely to succeed in the situations provided. I would venture to guess the majority of managers looking to win every game possible are much more likely to go with someone who has been there before and who won’t get jitters than go with a younger player about whom they have some doubts.
If Seattle is playing meaningful games all season long, as is the current plan, then it is inevitable that Chavez and a healthy Gutierrez will each make their way to the main roster before Jones or Romero. Even if neither veteran is really hitting much down in AAA. For better or worse, the younger outfielders will be stuck looking in from the outsid this season.
With all that said, if things break the ways the Mariners would like them to, the chances of either player showing up in the big leagues with the Mariners prior to rosters expanding in September is close to zero. Fate in this case will have not brought us together for a reason.
If either player is called up this season, it is most likely a negative omen as neither should be an improvement over the starting outfielder they would be replacing. This team could make do for a couple months with losing a main platoon partner to either corner spot, filling with Chavez or Gutierrez. Those players serve as depth for a reason: baseball is infinitely unpredictable.
But if either is somehow an upgrade over the man they are replacing, may God save us all. This type of reunion is best saved for a team with less at stake and reserve positions to win, a team whose fans could invest in the emotional journey of their wayward outfielders coming, and staying, “home,” not the win-now team we currently have. Oh no no, we ain’t got the time, or the outfield grass, to spare on such trivial pursuit manners.