M’s adding outfield depth with familiar faces

 As the Seattle Mariners complete their annual Fan Fest event, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that the club has brought back veteran outfielder Endy Chavez on a minor league deal. He will receive an invite to Spring Training in March. Dutton also reports that a minor league deal with Franklin Gutierrez is nearing completion.

Chavez, 37 in February, signed a minor league contract with the Mariners in each of the past two seasons. Last year he was re-called at the end of May and would appear in 80 games. The left-hander posted a .276/.317/.371 slash line with a 97 wRC+ in 258 plate appearances. Chavez primarily played right field and saw plenty of time hitting at the top of the lineup in the absence of Michael Saunders.

Although he was almost exactly replacement level (-0.1 fWAR) in 2014, Chavez did chip in offensively here and there. Manager Lloyd McLendon praised the outfielder often and described him as, “a very valuable player” and a pro.

For all the intangibles Chavez brought to the clubhouse, he didn’t really add tangible value on the field. He did hit well at home with a 112 wRC+ and was a very good pinch hitter when called upon. If anything, he exceeded expectations on the offensive side of things. But he was below average in the field and on the base paths.

Entering his age-37 season it isn’t a surprise to see the veteran having to settle for a minor league deal again. Longevity is certainly an asset and Chavez has managed to forge a 14-year major league career as a part-time outfielder. But as his speed and defensive skills declined, he offered little help to clubs.

Entering 2015, should he surface with the Mariners at some point, he will probably assume a No. 5 outfielder role. Currently the club has Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson slated to play left and center field respectively. Newcomers Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano are expected to platoon in right field. The bench will likely feature James Jones as a pinch-runner extraordinaire and spot starter.

There’s already five outfielders on the roster without considering Stefen Romero who spent much of 2014 on the big league club.

Like Chavez, the Mariners had signed Gutierrez to a minor league deal last spring. Unfortunately the outfielder suffered a relapse of the stomach problems that ailed him previously and he shut himself down for the entire season. It was reported back in September that Seattle might have interest in bringing him back into the organization for another season.

Gutierrez will turn just 32 in February and made 10 appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League in December. Dutton mentions that returning to the Mariners would be the right-hander’s preference as he attempts a comeback to the bigs. Gutierrez would likely start the year at Triple-A to test his body and see how he is able to perform.

Gutierrez came to Seattle in a notable multi-player trade with the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians prior to the 2009 season. He would go on to have a breakout season and ink a four-year, $20.2 million extension.

When healthy, Gutierrez was one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. His last appearance in the majors was 2013 when he played in 41 games for the Mariners. He posted a .248/.273/.503 slash line with an unprecedented 10 home runs. The former Gold Glove Award showed some encouraging signs in between a myriad of injuries. But ultimately, health issues stalled what turned into a very respectable career.

Neither Chavez or Guiterrez, should his signing become official, should be expected to make the Opening Day roster barring an injury to one of the regular outfielders. But both could serve as essential depth at Tacoma and as veterans should be able to fill in if required.

These moves aren’t particularly shiny, but a stash of depth in the upper minors is essential to success throughout the season. Seattle knows both of these players well and familiarity between the player and organization likely factored into the decision of Chavez and pending decision of Gutierrez.

The M’s know what they’re getting with Chavez and they’ve seen Gutierrez at his best and at his worst. All Seattle is hoping for is something in the middle.

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Tyler Carmont

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9 Comments

  1. I agree on Kivlehan although he may have a path to the majors this year at 1B as well. If he can play corner OF, 1B, and 3B will certainly open his options. I agree on Peterson as well…I think he plays 1B longterm and has been playing some there already. I think he starts in AA almost assuredly.

  2. I believe they’ll start working Kivlehan into the outfield, since RF is probably his most likely/valuable path to the M’s. Similarly, Peterson has to start getting reps at 1b, eventually. I’m sure you’re right that it will all work out.

  3. They will have alot of talent but won’t likely place them necessarily all at AAA to start. I’d imagine that Peterson starts at AA with the ability to move up as necessary. He only has like 200 at bats or so above the A level. I am of the thought that Montero is going to be the 25th man on the major league roster so I don’t think he will be down there. Many of the guys can play all over the field but it will all work out. Some players won’t play everyday down there with Guti/Chavez/Morban rotating due to age/injury history. I’d imagine that Kivlehan plays 3B most every day, Jones and Romero will play most days in the outfield, and Marte is the SS unless they send down Taylor or Miller in which case he likely plays some 2B too. I’d imagine 1B will be Lara (if he doesn’t start in AA) with Choi playing there as well. Blash may head back to AA after his suspension last year and the guys already in AAA, same could be said for Morban.

  4. I didn’t even think of Jabari Blash and Ji Man Choi

  5. Tacoma’s gonna be crowded.

    3b: DJ Peterson / Kivlehan
    1b Jordy Lara / Peterson / Kivlehan / Montero?
    DH Montero / Lara / Romero
    CF Guti / James Jones
    RF Chavez / Romero
    LF Kivlehan / Morban

    That’s 9 guys you want to get regular PAs for 6 slots.
    I suppose Morban could start at AA, and maybe you write off Romero? Guti maybe doesn’t need to play regularly, just often enough to prove he can still walk?

  6. I think Guti will start in AAA barring injury, and should do so. What I like about his signing is that it gives us a legitimate depth guy should Jackson fail or get hurt. Also, no problem with Chavez in AAA either as he is veteran depth you want at that level as well.

  7. Always worth it to get a look at guys in spring training when there’s no cost.

  8. Minor league deals = ZERO risk by the Mariners. Love the signings. If nothing else they provide AAA depth in case of an injury.

  9. I’d love to see Guti back. If he’s healthy, he could be a forth or fifth outfielder. It’s worth the cost to find out.

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