SEATTLE -- Illness and injuries have limited Franklin Gutierrez's playing time the past three seasons, but the former Gold Glove center fielder said he's eager for another shot with the Mariners after signing a one-year contract Wednesday.
"I'm really happy to be here again," said Gutierrez, who'd become a free agent after Seattle declined a $7 million option for 2014. "You know, I'm just looking forward to contributing this year. I know it's been tough all these past years, but I'm feeling good, that's the most important thing. I'm just going to try to help my team again."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but ESPN Deportes is reporting the contract has a $1 million base salary, with the potential of an additional $2 million in incentives.
Gutierrez said his agent was talking to the Indians, among other teams, but his situation clarified as soon as Seattle contacted him during last week's Winter Meetings and indicated they were interested.
"I didn't think twice. I just said yes," he said. "And the reason was, first of all, I feel like this is family for me. I've been here five years already and they already know me and how to use me. I know the city, the team, the fans are very good. I didn't think twice. I just said, yes, I'm going to go back there."
To make a spot for Gutierrez on the Mariners' 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Chance Ruffin was designated for assignment. Ruffin, 25, made nine relief appearances for the Mariners in 2013, going 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA.
Gutierrez, 30, played the past five seasons for the Mariners and was an American League Gold Glove Award winner in 2010, but missed 313 of the team's 486 games over the past three years due to a host of health issues.
After completing a four-year contract that paid $19 million, Gutierrez returns now on a much smaller deal after playing just 41 games last year. But the Venezuela native was diagnosed with an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis about six months ago and is hopeful that medication will allow him to deal better with the hip and joint issues that have hindered him.
"It was very important for me to find out what I had," he said. "Now I have to try to manage this. I'm on medication that is working very well. I'm feeling more normal right now. I'm just feeling good. I'm trying to work on my batting, getting ready for Spring Training, and being ready for any situation, wherever the manager needs me."
Gutierrez hit .248 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in 145 at-bats last year, but spent most of the season on the disabled list or at Triple-A Tacoma due to hamstring problems. He also played just 40 games in 2012 due to two DL stints, with a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion, and was limited to 92 games in 2011 after missing time with a stomach disorder and then a strained oblique.
When healthy, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is regarded as one of the AL's premier defenders, and Seattle could use his right-handed bat in its lefty-heavy lineup. Gutierrez hit .283 with 18 homers, 70 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 2009 in his first year after being acquired by trade from the Indians.
The club just signed free agent Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, who are both capable of playing the outfield, but both are returning from knee issues.
The Mariners' only other returning outfielders are Michael Saunders, converted second baseman Dustin Ackley and September callup Abraham Almonte.
Gutierrez said he'll fit in wherever needed, willing to play any of the three outfield positions or as many days as makes sense in order to keep him healthy and able to contribute.
At this point, it's not about showing anyone else what he can do.
"I think it's more about proving to myself that I can be the same player that I was before," he said. "Probably with the thing I have, it's not like I can play every day right now. But I feel like I can help my team anyway.
"The past season they used me the last month playing three or four days a week and it works that way. Obviously, I need to talk to the manager and how he wants to use me, but my mind is open to playing anywhere in the outfield. I just want to help my team to a better season this year."
His reaction to the signing of Robinson Cano?
"Wow," he said. "I think everyone said, 'Wow.'"
And that, as well as the return of what he feels is a strong young nucleus and the addition of two-time All-Star Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Willie Bloomquist and others still to come, has Gutierrez already looking forward to spring after he spends the next two months working out at his offseason home in Florida.
"It feels like this year is going to be different," he said. "I feel in my heart that we are going to do better than the past seasons."