Guti, Chavez sign Minor League deals with camp invite

GutiCageLooking to add some outfield depth to their organization, the Mariners officially signed veterans Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez to Minor League contracts on Monday and extended invitations to next month’s Major League camp.

Neither addition was a surprise as Gutierrez (pictured) and Chavez both have long histories with Seattle and agreed to Minor League deals that don’t require opening a spot on the 40-man roster unless they make the Major League squad at some point.

Gutierrez will be rejoining the Mariners after a year-long absence, having spent 2014 away from the game while dealing with an inflammatory nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis. The 31-year-old Venezuelan was a 2010 American League Gold Glove center fielder for Seattle, but had trouble staying healthy the following three seasons due to problems he now attributes largely to the then-undiagnosed nerve issue.

Gutierrez returned to action for 10 games in the Venezuelan Winter League in December, hitting .222 with five doubles, two home runs and four RBIs while playing center field for Leones del Caracas.

Gutierrez signed a one-year, $1 million Major League deal with Seattle last season, but then told the club he didn’t feel healthy enough to compete shortly before the start of Spring Training and spent the year on the unpaid restricted list.

When healthy, Gutierrez was a defensive standout and he hit .283 with 18 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .764 OPS in his first season with Seattle in 2009. Injury issues limited him to 92 games in 2011 and just 40 and 41 games the following two years before sitting out 2014 completely.

In his nine-year MLB career with the Indians and Mariners, Gutierrez has hit .256/.306/.391 with 67 home runs and 279 RBIs in 762 games.

Chavez, 36, has been a productive player the past two seasons with Seattle after signing similar Minor League deals and then being promoted to the 25-man roster during the season.  Chavez posted a .276/.317/.371 line last season, with two home runs, 23 RBIs and 22 runs in 80 games, including 57 starts. He played 97 games in 2013 while hitting .267/.290/.327.

The 13-year Major League veteran has played with seven different clubs, including an earlier stint with Seattle in 2009, and owns a career line of .270/.308/.364.

Both veterans offer insurance and depth in Seattle’s outfield, but face a tough number’s situation going into spring. The Mariners traded for Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano during the offseason and have returning starters Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson, as well as youngsters James Jones and Stefen Romero returning.

Nelson Cruz, who signed a four-year, $57 million free-agent deal, will play mostly designated hitter, but he’s also capable of filling a corner-outfield spot. Cruz started 70 games in the field last year for the Orioles and has made 800 of his career starts in the outfield compared to 117 at DH.

The Mariners Spring Training roster is currently at 57 players (40 roster and 17 non-roster invitees), including 12 outfielders. Four of those outfielders are non-roster players, with Chavez and Gutierrez joining Minor Leaguers Patrick Kivlehan and Jordy Lara in that category. Here’s the current 40-man roster.

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