Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners (OF): Gutierrez is entering his third full Major League season a much richer man as he signed a four-year extension worth $20.5 million. The speedy, athletic centerfielder’s sore knees have healed and he expects bigger things in 2010. Despite the sore knees in 2009, he hit .283 with 18 homeruns and 70 RBIs. 2009 was a much better showing than in 2008 when he only hit .248 with 8 homeruns and 41 RBIs. Gutierrez credits the better offensive numbers to a slight shift in his stance that allows for a better use of his legs for power. “A centerfielder that can hit 20 homeruns is pretty special, and can play the kind of defense that he plays,” GM Jack Zduriencik said. “…maturation is going to work to his favor, because he’s going to get stronger just because of the maturation process.” Gutierrez plays everyday (153 games in 2009) and is getting more familiar with the pitching.
To go with his 18 homeruns and 70 RBIs, Gutierrez contributed 24 doubles and 16 stolen bases. He walked 46 times compared to 122 strikeouts. The biggest knock on Gutierrez is his suspect plate discipline as evidenced by his high strikeouts totals.
Gutierrez is a key component to the hope that the Mariners can compete for the American League West title. His all-around skills help him deliver solid numbers. His gap power played well at spacious Safeco Field. “On paper, you can look like the best team in the world,” Gutierrez said about the 2010 Mariners. “But when you go out there you have to do you job. Because it’s baseball. Anything can happen.” He knows from experience as his 2007 Cleveland Indians were one win away from the World Series only to fall flat in 2008 with higher expectations. Gutierrez is hoping that is not the case for the 2010 Mariners.
David Aardsma, Seattle Mariners (RP): Aardsma jumped onto the baseball scene in 2009 with 38saves. He dominated in the games using 87 percent fastballs (which led the majors). Skeptics claim that relying on the fastball could be dangerous, but why should he change? Aardsma is a fastball pitcher and trying to be anything else for variety’s sake would be riskier. He averaged 10.09 strikeouts per nine innings in 2009. “Until the hitter show you something, then you don’t change on them,” Aardsma said. If the hitters cannot hit the fastball, keep throwing it. It makes sense as the closer to go after hitters with your best pitch until it is not working.
The 95 mph fastball has been working for Aardsma. After taking over as closer in May, he held opponents to just a .196 average and posted an ERA of 2.52 to go with 80 strikeouts. He has been working with Mariners bullpen coach John Wetteland, one of the most successful closers of the 1990s, on throwing his fastball with conviction that his best stuff is good enough to get hitters out.
Everyone knows that in the ninth inning Aardsma is going to throw fastballs. However he pointed out that everyone knows that NY Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is going to throw a cutter yet hitters still cannot hit it. Aardsma is working on his secondary pitches in spring training just to keep hitters off balance. “…but if the hitters have that 5 percent in the back of their mind, then it makes it easier to do what I have to do,” Aardsma said about throwing a slider or split. What the Mariners need Aardsma to do in 2010 is to have another breakout year for the Mariners to overtake the LA Angels.