The more I think about Franklin Gutierrez's torn pectoral the more depressed I get. Aside from the fact that it sounds pretty painful to tear that muscle, at least he isn't having surgery. But as Geoff Baker pointed out on his blog, like the voice of reason he always is, Guti is going to be gone for much longer than a month.
Part of the confusion centers around an understanding over just what it means when the Mariners say Gutierrez could resume normal baseball activities in four weeks. For one, it doesn't mean he'll be able to step out on a field and take on the Oakland Athletics in four weeks. Maybe if Gutierrez was playing for a company softball team. But not in the majors. One of the more underappreciated aspects of Major League Baseball that I see with fans surrounds the kind of conditioning it takes to play the sport at its highest level. This isn't meant as a shot at fans, who aren't given much insight into the behind-the-scenes training these athletes must go through every day. And that's a big part of the confusion over why I'm saying Gutierrez isn't coming back until at least early May.
There was much to be made about reports of Guti entering spring training with 15 pounds of muscle packed on. It was quite clear with his stomach ailments last year that the glove and the legs were still there, but the bat was virtually non-existent. Guti's slugging percentage last year was the second lowest of the team (minimum 300 ABs) at .273. Only the much maligned Chone Figgins slugged worse. With as much emphasis on the team that has been placed on the production of Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Dustin Ackley, I still feel like Guti regaining some of that gorgeous 2009 batting line (.283/.339.425 18 HRs) is just as instrumental to the team's drive towards .500. I believe that Guti has the talent within him and that the 2009 season wasn't a statistical fluke, but this injury is a major setback to proving that.
Now, thanks to Jack Z's wheelings and dealings last year, the Mariners do have a solid glut of options to throw into the mix for the temporary. Unfortunately, outside of Michael Saunders, none of the options have had a solid chance to prove themselves at the top level. In the case of Saunders, he has had multiple chances to prove that he doesn't have to bat to make it in the major leagues.There is also talk of putting Figgins in center, and that opens the door for Kyle Seager to sink or swim at the hot corner. If he succeeds? Great. If he flounders? Not so good for the self-esteem of a young guy. I guess the silver lining is that at least this year, unlike a couple years ago, the team actually has options, regardless of how unproven they are.
And really, to bring it all back to why the Guti injury is even more terrible, the always astute Larry Stone points out that possibly one of the Mariners better choices is no longer an option.
This is a guy, don't forget, who was rated the Mariners' No. 1 prospect in 2009 by Baseball America, when they noted, "Halman is a physical specimen with the potential for five average or better tools...Though his speed is just a tick above-average, Halman covers swaths of center field with long, graceful strides."