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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