SEATTLE – Aside from the blockbuster trade that sent starting pitcher Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees for catching prospect Jesus Montero, the Seattle Mariners have been quiet during the offseason.
But quiet isn’t necessarily a negative.
While the Mariners were finishing as fringe bidders for Prince Fielder, the three-time All-Star who signed a nine-year free agent contract with Detroit, they may have found a center fielder.
Franklin Gutierrez, who battled stomach problems that him limited to 92 games last season, quietly returned to Seattle a few weeks ago, looking more like the potential All-Star he used to be than the frail player who hit .224 in 2011, with one home run and 13 RBI.
“He’s added 15 pounds of muscle,” manager Eric Wedge said Thursday at Safeco Field. “He’s as strong as I’ve ever seen him. He was on the path when we traded for him over here, and he came over and had a good year. He’s had a lot of things go wrong since then – physically, mentally, everything.
“He looked great,” continued Wedge, who brought Gutierrez to Seattle, along with eight other position players, to foster some offseason team bonding. “I mean, you’ll be shocked when you see him. He’s strong, he’s got a twinkle in his eye, and I expect great things from him. I really do.”
Gutierrez’ mysterious illness was identified as irritable bowel syndrome. While there’s no cure, the ailment can be managed through diet management.
Put simply: Keep a chart, and avoid foods that are problematic. Gutierriez’s recovery has been as sudden his decline.
“Everything he put on was muscle,” Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. “He looks unbelievable, the best he’s looked in two years. He’s impressed everybody with his agility and his strength. He’s not having any issues at all with his stomach. For him not to have any of those issues and to be able to work out in the off-season, it’s huge.
“He couldn’t eat or lift weights last year. But he’s gone 10 months now with no issues. That’s the biggest and best news of the offseason.”
Casper Wells, a candidate to replace Gutierrez in center field before his 2011 season was sidetracked by a balance disorder, also has recovered.
“He’s not having any issues at all,” Griffin said at the Mariners’ annual preseason media luncheon. “Maybe it was because he changed the prescription of his contact lenses, but over time it cleared up six weeks after the season. Sometimes you can’t really explain symptoms, but everything’s fine. You just move forward.”
The Mariners, who debuted as a franchise in 1977, will wear a 35th anniversary patch on their right sleeves in 2012.
The 35th anniversary theme will be revisited by a parade of former players scheduled to appear at Safeco Field on weekends during the season. Among those planning to participate in the anniversary celebration are Ruppert Jones, Gaylord Perry, Alvin Davis, Tom Paciorek, Tino Martinez, Mark Langston and Spike Owen.
GOING TO JAPAN
The regular season begins with two games against Oakland in Tokyo.
The March 28 opener is scheduled for 3:10 a.m. (PST). and the March 29 is slated for 2:10 a.m.
While the television crew of Dave Sims and Mike Blowers will remain in the Seattle area for the broadcasts – they’ll call the action from TV studios in Bellevue – the 710-AM Seattle radio team of Rick Rizzs and Ken Wilson will be on hand in Japan.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Wedge, who recently returned from a Mariners’ junket in Japan that promoted the games. “It’s the first anniversary of the tsunami. It will be a celebration of baseball, and a celebration of the Seattle Mariners.”
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Safeco Field.
What: The 14th annual event allows fans to tour the Mariners’ clubhouse, run the bases and shag flies in addition to other activities. The Mariners players scheduled to appear are Mike Carp, Brandon League, Jesus Montero, Miguel Olivo, Trayvon Robinson, Brendan Ryan, Jason Vargas and Casper Wells. Mariners minor leaguers scheduled to appear are Vinnie Catricala, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. Ex-Mariners Jay Buhner, Julio Cruz and Dan Wilson also are scheduled to appear.
Cost: $10 for adults (15 and older), $5 for children (ages 6-14), free for children 5 or younger. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster, Mariners team stores or the Safeco Field ticket office.
More information and full schedule of events: www.seattlemariners.com