Franklin Gutierrez's time in Seattle has been vexing to say the least.
Upon his arrival in 2009, it was hard to tell whether the former Cleveland Indians reserve would make a meaningful contribution if given the starting job in center field, yet in short time Gutierrez went from starter to potential superstar.
His breakout year was one of many feel-good stories from that season, and while the team floundered the following year after starting out with high hopes, Guti cemented his status in Seattle by earning a Gold Glove for his stellar defensive play patrolling center at Safeco.
Following two solid seasons in Seattle, Guti seemed like a sure thing going into spring training for his third season, but instead of seeing the man who inspired the catchphrase "Death to Flying Things," we were horrified to see him looking rail-thin and lethargic.
By the time doctors solved the mystery and treated Guti's ailment, the better part of the 2011 season was a lost cause for both him and the Mariners.
Entering this spring, it seemed that last year was behind Gutierrez as he looked...well like himself.
But before we got the chance to get too excited, Guti went down with a pectoral injury that would shelve him for the first few weeks of the regular season.
Last week I wrote about the potential long-term impact of this injury for Gutierrez and the Mariners.
This week though, I would like to take the chance to review the possibility of Guti's chances of bouncing back in the short term this season.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's take a step back for a moment...
This here is Franklin Gutierrez: male, age 28, entering what should be the prime of his career.
Meanwhile is it me or does this guy look like he couldn't hurt a fly?
Sadly for Guti and for the Mariners, nobody really knew what was wrong with him at this point.
Fortunately, Gutierrez can now reflect in talking to the Seattle Times Larry Stone about his illness...
"'It affected everything,' he said of his IBS. 'I didn't have the energy to play you normally have, the energy to play in the outfield and hitting. It was obvious, how skinny I was. I was battling. I missed spring training, the first two or three months of the season. I tried to get back, tried to help the team, but I couldn't do it.'"
This year for picture day, Guti showed up at fighting weight and ready to go.
Between the muscle tone and the look in his eyes, it seemed that last year was a distant memory as he explained to Larry Stone of the Seattle Times...
"'I feel great,' he said. 'I have no issues at all. It's going to be a new year, and I'm prepared for it. I feel completely different. I feel strong now. I feel I'm back to me again. Power line drives. Sometimes if I catch it good, I can hit it out. I'm back to me, man. I'm just really happy.'"
Unfortunately, the good times didn't last long as within days of uttering those words, Guti was injured and out of commission with a partially torn right pectoral muscle.
This setback, as Stone's colleague at the Seattle Times Geoff Baker detailed, will take time to recover from...
"At the very best, you're looking at Gutierrez beginning his spring training on April 1st, arriving in camp in the same kind of shape as some 35-year-old who goes to the gym three times per week and does moderately heavy exercise."
Pride and passion got him back, one would hope pride and passion would drive him again.
But do we believe the desire to return will be enough?
Most Mariner fans were hard pressed to expect very much of Guti going into spring training, but to top it off with another injury early only compounds this feeling of doubt.
To use my own words here, "In only a few short years, we've learned that Guti isn't terribly durable and when he is available, his ceiling is that of a solid if not spectacular defender, but unable to carry a team with his bat.
Essentially, he is a complementary player a contending club would consider as a major piece to plug into an already-solid lineup."
Yet in the short term, if I'm Guti, I'm filing statements like that and using them as motivation.
Motivation is something he may need to get his job back.
When Guti went down this spring, it seemed that the Mariners would have to scramble to find someone to replace him in the interim. While the Mariners certainly had players to choose from, no one player in particular seemed poised to take on the job.
Then, oddly enough, Michael Saunders emerged.
A forgotten man in 2011, this spring it would appear that he's finally turned a corner as manager Eric Wedge acknowledged in speaking to the Seattle Times...
"'You know what? He's really swung the bat well this spring,' Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. 'I mean, literally night and day from what we've seen in the past. From what I've seen in the past. He's up there. He's a little more aggressive. He's seeing the ball better, he's striding to hit. Taking what they give him. And he's seeing results.'"
Will Saunders be able to continue hitting when the games actually count?
Hard to say, but the starting job for Gutierrez might not be a sure thing once he's healthy.
If Saunders really has a hot start to the regular season, what should Eric Wedge do?
Let's face it, there's a very real chance that perhaps only one of the men pictured here will be back in Seattle next season. The toughest part is guessing which one.
Will Ichiro bounce back from last year?
Will Michael Saunders bring his swing from spring training to the regular season?
Will Guti be trade bait for an organization in the midst of a youth movement?
All of these are questions without answers today, but at some point decisions will need to be made.
Whether or not the team would consider shopping Gutierrez, he has to figure that his long-term prospects in Seattle are limited. On the flip side, a healthy and productive Guti of 2009 vintage would hold quite a bit of appeal to contending teams in need of a solid defender with a little bit of pop. If things go awry for the Mariners quickly this year, it might be in Guti's best interest to put on a show for potential suitors.
Imagine that after fighting your way through two prior organizations, you finally get the chance to play everyday in the majors and prove not only to yourself, but your new team that you are not only a starter, but a potential star.
Then imagine you fall victim to one strange injury or ailment after another for the better part of a year-and-a-half in the midst of what should be your prime.
With time against you and doubt swirling all around, you're going to do everything you can to fight back and push yourself.
You have to, it's bred into you as a competitor.
Nobody gets this far by being lucky, you know deep down that this is probably your best chance on a ball club still searching for an identity to figure out whether you really belong.
If the body is willing, Franklin Gutierrez will bounce back in 2012 and hopefully with a vengeance.