Boston Red Sox: Is Franklin Gutierrez the 4th Outfielder?
Sometimes in life a revelation catches you so off guard that you feel compelled to share it with anyone you can, only to discover they knew all along. Take the FedEx logo for example, that white arrow between the E and the X still drives me to distraction. My wife is sick of hearing about it. So imagine my surprise to learn that, ever so quietly, the Seattle Mariners’ Franklin Gutierrez was not only playing baseball again, but playing baseball remarkably well.
Gutierrez, he of obscenely amazing nickname “Death to Flying Things”, is a 32 year old right-handed slugger, who missed all of 2014 and almost all of 2015 through injury. So it’s not just me living under a rock, this guy was out of action for nearly two years! A comeback was in order and occurred, again ever so quietly, towards the end of June. Starting slow with an AVG of .259 in July, Gutierrez would go on to rake in August to a slashline of .339/.388/.742.
By the end of the year, Gutierrez would finish up an impressive .292/.354/.620 line, a WAR of 2.3 and he hit 15 dingers, in essentially half a season. That’s enough to make me spew my drink. But consider that Gutierrez was playing for Seattle and Safeco Field is so pitcher friendly that, had Safeco Insurance not bought the rights to the name, they would probably name it Flyout Field. His .327 ISO is higher than anybody in the Mariners line-up, Nelson Cruz included, and the only Boston Red Sox to come close is David Ortiz with .280 on the year. I think I need to sit down for a bit.
Ultimately Gutierrez’s glorious return to form in 2015 could well be a half-a-season streak, only for him to come crashing down to earth in 2016. Even so, Tim Britton writing for the Providence Journal thinks it’s possible that Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski might make a move for him. Dombrowski has said in several past interviews that he would like to add an extra outfielder as insurance for the current setup of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr and Rusney Castillo:
"“Two years ago, Gutierrez made a ton of sense as an insurance policy in case Jackie Bradley didn’t cut it in center field. The Red Sox opted for Grady Sizemore instead, and Gutierrez missed the season with a variety of health issues. Just as Bradley bounced back with a strong 2015, Gutierrez responded from the missed time with by far his best offensive season in Seattle.”"
It could be, as Britton notes, the time is now ripe for Death to Flying Things to enter Boston as he enters free agency. Not only does Dombrowski want an extra outfielder for insurance, more specifically he wants someone who bats right-handed, another plus in Gutierrez’s favor. Certainly, at his age and with questionable overall health, one could not expect much from the defensive side from Gutierrez, but the role in question as a fourth outfielder would seem to be designed to play him to his strengths. As Britton notes:
"“He can no longer play the kind of Gold Glove defence in centerfield that made him a valuable player even when his offense was subpar, but the Red Sox don’t need that kind of defender as a fourth outfielder with Bradley, Betts and Castillo all capable of playing center. Dombrowski expressed a preference for a right-handed bat, and Gutierrez fits that bill.”"
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Obviously, Dombrowski will act with caution, Gutierrez’s wild ride on the ding dong express in 2015 was not only shocking to me, but perhaps even to himself. His career hitting figures are lower and one could easily imagine 2015 being smoke and mirrors. Even so, the move would carry benefits regardless. Red Sox 2015 All-Star and super utility player Brock Holt may have been the go to for a 4th player in the outfield up until now, but Boston prefers having him free to be the ultimate insurance policy, covering all positions as he is remarkably capable of doing. With Deven Marrero and Travis Shaw also waiting in the wings, the Red Sox would have, if nothing else, a solid bench for 2016. Perhaps it could even open the door for the likes of Marrero to be moved on in a trade.
Whether or not Dombrowski makes the move for Gutierrez based on the admittedly small sample size of 2015 or if he’d prefer to play it safer remains to be seen. A number of other options for the outfield exist, perhaps most notably Alejandro De Aza, who would be ineligible for a qualifying offer so would not cost a draft pick. That said, De Aza bats left and doesn’t quite fit into the plans that Dombrowski seems to have in mind going forward.
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Either which way, expect more wild rumors to be flying around as the offseason hot stove starts to thaw off. Gutierrez’s turnaround in 2015 may well have come, quite literally, from the outfield, but you can be sure the Red Sox and their talented system of scouts have their eyes on many candidates we never considered at all. Now who here has heard about Rich Hill?