On February 21st Franklin Gutierrez will celebrate his 34th birthday. The Dodgers just signed Gutierrez to a 2.6 million dollar contract last week. What’s important is not that Gutierrez is turning 34, but what he’s had to deal with throughout his career. Now after reading a very interesting article on Fangraphs by Jeff Sullivan we see exactly what he’s gone through and is going through. As Sullivan stated in his article, it’s amazing that Gutierrez is still in baseball and playing at a high level.
Of course we all giggle a bit at the front office’s love of signing injured players, but this is a whole different animal. Gutierrez has had all the usual injuries that us Dodger fans are accustomed to seeing. He’s had the strained hamstrings, left and right. He’s had the strained oblique. He’s even had the stomach gastritis. Expect for half of the Dodger outfield to have stomach gastritis by May. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here’s the kicker though. According to the story, Gutierrez is suffering from a degenerate arthritis condition known as ankylosing spondylitis.
What is ankylosing spondylitis? Not only is it hard to spell and pronounce it has no cure. Here’s some information on the disease.
Ankylosing spondylitis (pronounced ank-kih-low-sing spon-dill-eye-tiss), or AS, is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, although other joints can become involved. It causes inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort.
My god. This is frightening. Read some more. Apparently there is no cure.
AS can also cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in other areas of the body such as the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels, and small joints of the hands and feet. Sometimes the eyes can become involved (known as iritis or uveitis), and — rarely — the lungs and heart can be affected.
That’s what Gutierrez has. I don’t know if you can die from this disease, but it looks very serious. There is no known cure, but there are treatments. You have to manage the pain, and it can affect the entire body, even his eyes. Apparently Gutierrez missed the entire 2014 season getting treatment for this.
I had no idea that Gutierrez had this terrible disease, I’m sure the front office did their home work. Naturally with him being in the American League none of us have seen him play. Before you start roasting the front office for this acquisition, let me explain something.
The Dodgers signed Gutierrez for a specific reason. They need help hitting left handed pitching, and that is something that Gutierrez does very well. As we saw earlier, He’s smashed southpaws throughout his career. That’s why the Dodgers brought him in. His .846 OPS and 50 career home runs against left handers are the reason why he is here.
So before you blow a gasket about his injuries and rare creepy arthritic degenerate disorder, just remember why he is here. He’s not here to play the outfield. I am sure there will be times throughout the season where the Dodgers will need him to jump in and play a few games in left or right field. If he’s able to he will. But the Dodgers already have plenty of outfielders that can handle left field. With Joc Pederson entrenched in center field, and Yasiel Puig slated to start most of the games in right, there are a plethora of players fighting for playing time at left field. Those players are long time Dodger Andre Ethier, rookie Andrew Toles, Scott Van Slyke, newly acquired Brett Eibner, Darin Ruf, Kike Hernandez, Charlie Culberson, Trayce Thompson and more. All of those guys can play left field. There are more guys in the minors that can play left field as well. Gutierrez isn’t needed for that. You are probably thinking that 2.6 million dollars is a lot of money for a pinch-hitter, but let me remind you that it’s not your money.
His role will be a primary right handed bat off the bench to mash southpaws in the late innings. That’s all he’s going to be used for. I tell you this, if Gutierrez has to start in left field, then something has probably gone terribly wrong and Andre Ethier has fallen into an abyss, or Andrew Toles has been infected with anthrax, and Tracye Thompson was lost at sea.
At one time, Gutierrez was a good outfielder and base runner. If you remember he won a gold glove in 2010, and once stole 25 bases. He’s just not that player anymore. If the Dodgers use him correctly then not only will they get maximum value from him, but they’ll keep him healthier. Hopefully this all works out for the Dodgers.