Mariners decline options on Gutierrez, Saunders

The Seattle Mariners announced Friday that they have declined the club option on OF Franklin Gutierrez, and their end of a mutual option on LHP Joe Saunders. Both players are now free agents.

This is, of course, not stunning news. While health played a role for one (Guitierrez), it was pretty clear that the other (Saunders) was on the way out when he stopped being used at the end of the season.

For Guti, this could spell the unfortunate end to something that could have been really wonderful for he and the club. As the primary target that three-team trade with the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets before the 2009 season, Gutierrez was targeted as an elite defender in center who had some upside with the bat. In that first season, it looked like GM Jack Zduriencik picked the Indians’ pockets, as Guti posted a 6.0 fWAR.

That was mostly thanks to a historic defensive season that saw him put up an eye-popping 31.0 UZR and 32 DRS (defensive runs saved). However, he wasn’t a liability at the plate like some defense-only players. His triple slash line of .253/.339/.425 lent credence to that the idea that Guti was a guy who just needed a chance to play every day. Unfortunately, his offense and health began to slide. He did manage to play in 152 games in 2010, but that was the last time he’d top 100 in a season. His health got so bad in 2012 and 2013, in fact, that his combined games played in those seasons couldn’t even top the 92 he played in 2011.

While it’s not impossible that Gutierrez could be back, it’s not highly probable. The club needs to get a whole lot better in the outfield — their biggest area of weakness — and a glass-plated player doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even as a backup.

 As for Saunders, the writing was on the wall for this move when it was announced that he’d not make another start for the club with a couple weeks remaining in the season. There were no reports of injury or personal matters getting in the way of him continuing to start, the club simply just wanted to look at other options instead.

After earning the moniker of “Safeco Joe” due to his better-at-home splits at the beginning of the season, Saunders eventually couldn’t turn in a positive outing regardless of venue. While his ERA of 5.26 might have been slightly bad-luck inflated — his 4.72 FIP was in line with his career average — the team seems content to move forward with younger, cheaper options or pursue different veteran free agents.

The moves will cost the club $500,000 to pay for Gutierrez’s buyout. According to Cot’s Contracts, Saunders’ mutual option did not have a buyout attached.

In other roster-related news, RHP Stephen Pryor has been removed from the 60-day disabled list and activated to the 40-man roster. The 40-man roster now stands at 34.

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Jason A. Churchill

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