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Extension keeps Gutierrez in Seattle

Extension keeps Gutierrez in Seattle

An opportunity to play his favorite position on an everyday basis for the first time in his Major League career went so well for Franklin Gutierrez in 2009 that he gladly accepted the Mariners' offer to spend at least four more years chasing down balls hit toward his vast center-field range.

"I feel really happy to be here today," the 26-year-old Gutierrez said on Friday during a news conference at Safeco Field to announce a four-year, $20.5 million contract extension. The deal includes a club option for a fifth year.

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"The security he just received is something he has earned, quite frankly," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "When you reach out to somebody in this nature, it is because you respect the player's ability and respect the player for what he is as a person."

Gutierrez, one of the quietest players on the team, said his decision to continue his career with the Mariners for at least four more years "was not about the money."

"It's about being in Seattle, maybe more than five years," Gutierrez said. "It's important to have the kind of relationship we have in the clubhouse, with the manager and Jack. We are like family."

Acquired from the Indians on Dec. 10, 2008, as part of the three-team, 12-player blockbuster that also included the Mets, Gutierrez emerged as the gem of the deal and removed much of the sting remaining from the trade that sent highly touted prospect Adam Jones to the Orioles the prior offseason.

Gutierrez developed into one of the top defensive center fielders in the Majors last season, leading all big league outfielders with 445 putouts.

After a slow start with the bat, he ended up hitting .283 with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 70 RBIs, setting single-season career highs in nearly every offensive category and becoming only the ninth player in franchise history to hit at least 15 home runs and steal 15 bases in the same season.

"Franklin had a breakthrough season last year," Zduriencik said. "But the exciting thing for us is that we believe he will only continue to get better. We feel he was the best defensive center fielder in the American League, and he was a huge part of the success of our pitching staff leading the AL in ERA. Offensively, his combination of speed and power is a perfect fit for our club, and he is an outstanding person."

It took a while for the fit to take hold.

Gutierrez -- who decided to pass up an opportunity to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic to get better acquainted with his new teammates, manager and coaching staff during Spring Training -- had three hits in his first eight at-bats of the regular season.

But Gutierrez scuffled for the remainder of April, batting .230 for the month. A small mechanical adjustment in his stance helped turn his season around, and he became one of Wakamatsu's most dependable hitters for the remainder of 2009.

He also became a fan favorite at Safeco Field.

"Last year was the first time I played here and realized we have great fans," Gutierrez said. "They give you support. That is very important for us and me, too. I noticed in middle of season that fans were cheering for me in the outfield. That made me feel I had to work a little harder. I think we have the best fans in the world."

After watching the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Cameron and even Ichiro Suzuki for just over a year play Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, then weathering the deal that shipped Jones to Baltimore, Mariners fans were won over by Gutierrez's defensive prowess.

Though not the fastest outfielder around, Gutierrez has terrific defensive instincts.

And now his offense is catching up.

"We felt there would be a point when Franklin would take off as an offensive player, and I do believe the best days are ahead for this young man," Zduriencik said. "He has matured -- he's confident. We're all excited about what this player is going to be."

Two-thirds of the Mariners' starting outfield is set for a while. Right fielder Ichiro has three years remaining on his contract.

The contract extension for Gutierrez removed another item from the GM's plate.

"Jack is doing a great job," Gutierrez said. "We are building a great team here, and we will have a better team than last year. I'm excited. I feel really happy to be here today. Like Jack said, it's a great day for everybody."

The contract extension with Gutierrez leaves the Mariners with five players eligible for salary arbitration -- ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, right-handed closer David Aardsma, right-handed relievers Mark Lowe and Brandon League and newly acquired first baseman Casey Kotchman.

Those players have until Jan. 15 to file, and salary figures will be exchanged on Jan. 19. Salary arbitration hearings will be held in February.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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