Seattle Mariners: With Gutierrez Close to Return, Team Has Choice to Make

Alex CarsonCorrespondent IIIMay 17, 2011

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Franklin Gutierrez #21 of the Seattle Mariners at bat against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on September 12, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

A couple glaring problems for the Mariners could be solved soon in the form of Franklin Gutierrez returning the the team.

He was out of Tacoma's lineup today, and it was reported that he has rejoined the big club tonight and should be activated tomorrow.

A gold glove award winner from a season ago, the club would love have him patrolling center field again to aid a defense that was supposed to be a strength instead of the weakness it has been to this point.

While we're still looking at a small sample, even Ichiro has been below average according to UZR.

On the offensive side, the team has seen next to nothing from Michael Saunders who was slated to begin the season at Triple-A Tacoma until Gutierrez's stomach ailments resurfaced. While Gutierrez regressed last season, his upside provides an improvement for a team that has become too left-handed.

Of course, when Gutierrez returns, some else has to go.

The general thought is that the club will need to keep Michael Saunders around, despite his struggles, to turn his new batting stance into success at the plate. Once Milton Bradley and Ryan Langerhans were dropped from the roster, Saunders was left as the only option in center field.

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times believes it could be Tom Wilhelmsen that goes down, since he has options remaining and is rarely used anyway.

While that has some logic behind it, I'm not sure I agree that having all of Gutierrez, Saunders, Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero share two positions.

Yes, Gutierrez will be starting off slow, needing someone to spell him in center a few days a week. That would mean Saunders would still be playing every day, a good thing for his development, just shifting between left and center.

However, that move would then limit both Peguero and Wilson to reserve roles and one of them (likely Wilson) may only play once or twice a week. While neither are considered long-term prospects, especially Wilson will already be 28 next month, I don't see the point in relegating these guys to reserve roles when there might be some usefulness for them.

Furthermore, the Mariners only have one day off until June 16th. Wilhelmsen may not be used much now, but it's hard to see the club making it through that stretch while only using the four primary relievers they've been leaning on.

In my view, the best option would be to activate Franklin Gutierrez, call up Ryan Langerhans and send down Michael Saunders and Mike Wilson.

This move would allow Saunders, Wilson and Peguero to play every day.

Wilson and Saunders would start in left and center respectively in Tacoma while Peguero would man left for the Mariners. When Gutierrez needs a day off, Langerhans provides adequate defense in center. Langerhans could also platoon with Peguero, starting in left against right handed pitching.

I don't see the point in having Langerhans start in Tacoma. He's not a prospect and this is the sort of thing he's still around: To provide outfield depth.

I don't know that Saunders will ever develop, but he's struggling badly right now. Will another trip to Tacoma help? I don't know. You'd think big league coaches would be better suited to help him adjust than those in the minors, but perhaps he needs more low-pressure time in the minors to make tweaks.

To do this, however, someone on the 40-man roster would have to be tossed overboard, as Langerhans would have to be added.

The Rockies didn't seem to mind parting ways with Chaz Roe when they took on Jose Lopez, and I don't think the Mariners would lose sleep over the end of the Roe era either. When speaking of era, Roe's ERA of 7.07 comes to mind.

Also, while nothing has been officially decided, don't be surprised if Gutierrez arrives with a certain second baseman in tow.