Still hope for a bounce-back year from Gutierrez?

Mar 2, 2012, 2:25 PM | Updated: 2:38 pm

By Jim Moore

I’m trying to look at the Franklin Gutierrez situation as optimistically as I can, but it’s hard because there are more negatives than positives when it comes to a pectoral tear suffered by a starting center fielder who was projected to have a bounce-back season.

Or maybe it’s just in my crotchety nature to be cynical and always look at the dark side of things. Maybe I need professional help.

Why is it, for instance, when Seahawks general manager John Schneider talks about the black cloud that follows Leroy Hill, the first two things that come to my mind are as follows:

• Black cloud?! When you say a black cloud is following someone around, you’re suggesting that that person’s had a run of bad luck. You could say a black cloud has been following Gutierrez around, but not Hill, who got rid of the blue skies in his life by smoking pot and falling asleep at the wheel three years ago, then being arrested for domestic violence two years ago and now getting busted for pot possession again.

• Black cloud?! I’m pretty sure that when you’re a pot smoker, it’s a gray cloud that follows you and your bong around, not a black one.

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Getting his stomach issues under control and bulking up over the offseason was supposed to translate into a bounce-back season for Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. (AP)

Anyway, here’s the crotchety, negative outlook on Gutierrez — we’ve been told that he can’t resume any baseball-type activities for four weeks.

So maybe he’ll get in one abbreviated week of spring training after the Mariners return from their trip to Japan on March 30. But more than likely, depending on the severity of the tear, he won’t be up and running until sometime in April, and when I say up and running, that doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to return to center field.

Best-case, I’m guessing he’ll be good to go in May after completing a minor-league rehab assignment. But even at that, who among us expects Gutierrez to have a gangbuster-like season now?

Isn’t it more realistic to think that he’ll be playing catch-up all season? Don’t get me wrong, I hope he tears the cover off of those four-seam fastballs when he returns to the Mariners. I hope he approximates the player he was in 2009 when he batted .283 and accounted for 18 home runs and 70 runs batted in.

But let’s be honest here — many people were expecting a big season from Gutierrez this year based on two things:

• He had finally found some answers to a condition that had been bothering him the last two years, a condition called irritable bowel syndrome, a condition that is tough to type let alone suffer from.

• He showed up at camp in great shape, adding all kinds of muscle. We were told by everyone that you wouldn’t believe how good he looks. Based on appearances alone, we assumed that Gutierrez would have a bounce-back season.

I was surprised when Kevin Calabro and Shannon Drayer suggested that Gutierrez, before he got hurt, might hit 20 to 25 home runs this season — as if this new-and-nicer-looking Guti (if that’s possible) would suddenly recapture his form from three years ago.

Were his down years completely attributable to irritable bowel syndrome? Apparently the Guti backers think so.

But as the crotchety old cynical dude, I wonder. Is there a chance that he’s just not a great hitter whether he’s suffering from something or completely healthy or he’s muscle-bound or sleek or somewhere in between?

After all, there is a reason that Cleveland traded him to the Mariners in 2008. If they thought he was going to be so terrific, the Indians would have hung on to him. Point being, it’s more reasonable to think we’ll never see the Gutierrez from 2009 than this pipe dream that we will.

Here’s another thing from the crotchety perspective: I wonder if Gutierrez’s offseason conditioning program contributed to his injury. Was trainer Rick Griffin on board with everything Gutierrez was doing over the winter?

I assume so, but when I hear Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge saying they’ve never seen an injury like this in all their years in baseball, it makes me wonder.

There could be a silver lining in all of this, and I apologize for the cliché, but I’m in a big hurry and my mind is already drifting to Puerto Rico, which is where I’ll be next week, golfing and downing many cervezas on what many would call a boondoggle of a trip, and I would, too.

How about this scenario: what if Gutierrez doesn’t come back until late May or early June? First reaction: Sounds terrible, hopefully he’ll come back sooner than that. We need Death to Flying Things out in center field as quickly as possible.

But what if Casper Wells and/or Michael Saunders are raking and playing reasonably well in the field? Wedge always talks highly of Wells for good reason — until he got smacked in the nose by a Brandon Morrow pitch in August, he packed a powerful bat. In one stretch last year after he was acquired by the Tigers in the Doug Fister trade, Wells hit home runs in four games in a row. That’s what I’d call un-Guti-like.

And Saunders, I remember a few years ago when Rainiers manager Daren Brown said Saunders was the best prospect in Tacoma. Maybe the unconventional offseason work that Saunders did with a personal batting coach will pay off this year.

Then what? I’m not sure, but I’d like to have that problem with Wells and Saunders. What would the Mariners do with Gutierrez then, work him back in or keep it going with Wells or Saunders?

Who knows? Gutierrez will earn $5.5 million this year and $7 million next year with a club option in 2014.

I fully understand that Wells and Saunders aren’t as gifted as Gutierrez defensively, but if they’re hitting in the high .200s and delivering some pop, it would be worth it to keep them out there as long as they’re not impersonating Milton Bradley.

Jim Moore also writes for his website, www.jimmoorethego2guy.com. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.

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Still hope for a bounce-back year from Gutierrez?