Mariners deal Putz in blockbuster trade
Zduriencik says acquiring Indians outfielder Gutierrez key to 12-player swap
LAS VEGAS -- Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik reached double figures in his first trade.A blockbuster, 12-player, three-team swap Wednesday night landed the Mariners seven players, including strong-armed, fleet-footed center fielder Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians, but it cost Seattle right-handed closer J.J. Putz, who was traded to the Mets. "It is difficult to give up a J.J. Putz," Zduriencik said. "That is not an easy thing to do. This guy, two and three years ago, was as good as anybody in the league. But as I told him this evening, 'The fact it was such a large trade and so many players came back to us, we had to do it.'" Putz was informed of the trade during a phone conversation with Zduriencik.
"Jack called me -- although I missed the call and had to call him back," Putz said from his Phoenix-area home. "I had heard rumblings about being traded, but when nothing happened the last couple of days, I didn't think anything was going to happen."It will be tough leaving Seattle," he added. "Shoot, that was home for us for the last six years. My wife is taking it harder than I am. She has lots of friends there. A lot of people don't realize that something like this is harder on wives than the players, but it will be fine." The Tigers, Brewers and Cardinals also made overtures for Putz, but it came down to Zduriencik finally getting the player he wanted. "Gutierrez is the player that made this deal happen," Zduriencik said. "[Mets GM] Omar [Minaya] and I had a discussion late today, and I told him I had to get a center fielder in one of these deals and the guy I really want is in Cleveland." As it turned out, the Mets and Indians also had been talking trade. "Omar called me back a half-hour later and told me we could get the guy I wanted." And just like that, the blockbuster deal was done. Besides Gutierrez, the Mariners received from the Mets: right-handed pitchers Aaron Heilman and Maikel Cleto, left-handed-hitting first baseman Mike Carp, left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas and outfielders Endy Chavez and Ezequiel Carrera. Seattle sent right-handed pitcher Sean Green and outfielder Jeremy Reed to the Mets and infielder Luis Valbuena to the Indians, who also received pitcher Joe Smith from the Mets. "Our primary goal this offseason has been to accumulate talent, both at the Major League level and in our Minor League system," Zduriencik said. "We believe all seven of these players have a chance to help make us a better team, both immediately and in the future." Four of them -- Heilman, Carp, Chavez and Gutierrez -- could provide immediate help. Heilman has starting and relieving experience, although his rocky outings in the closer role late last season prompted the Mets to sign record-setting closer Frankie Rodriguez via free agency and then add Putz to the bullpen. Heilman's role with the Mariners is something that will be determined in Spring Training. Same goes for right-hander Brandon Morrow. "At the end of year, [Morrow] was in the rotation. And at this moment in time, nothing has changed," Zduriencik said. "But we have a new manager and pitching coaches, and for me to stand here and dictate what is going to happen on the field is not my job." While the trade did little to address the Mariners' power, another area Zduriencik wants to improve, he said the team now has one of the best defensive units in the Majors. "I think we can run an outfield out there that has speed and three guys that can throw with anybody in the game," the GM said, referring to Ichiro Suzuki in right field, Gutierrez in center and Chavez in left. "I think it makes it a better club in terms of defense in the outfield." Putting Gutierrez in the middle of the outfield could turn line drives in the alleys into outs, which would be a tremendous lift to the Seattle pitchers. "We acquired this guy because he can play center field," Zduriencik said. "We feel he is one of the better outfielders in the American League. He's still young, and there is a big upside to him. We look forward to watching this kid play center field every day in our ballpark, where he will have a chance to show his skills. And we hope he comes on some offensively. If he does that, we'll be real happy." Gutierrez batted .248 with 26 doubles, eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 134 games with the Indians last season. With All-Star Grady Sizemore in center field, Gutierrez had to settle for playing time in left and right fields for Cleveland. Chavez, 30, made 56 starts in the outfield for the Mets last season and tied for second on the team with seven assists. A strong finish, in which he batted .313 after June 11, boosted his batting average to .267. He has a career average of .270 and 17 home runs in 773 games. Vargas, 24, missed all of the 2008 season after having surgery on his left hip. "If you remember, he was a second-round pick of the Marlins a few years back, and he rocketed to the big leagues," Zduriencik said. "He had a really good first year. I don't know what happened to him, but he kind of fell off the face a little bit." Vargas finished the '08 season in the Arizona Fall League. "Our reports on him were real good," Zduriencik said. "He's got a good curveball -- a stocky kid with a nice arm. We think he can get left-handed hitters out." Carp, 22, batted .299 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs in 134 games with Double-A Binghamton in 2008, setting career highs in virtually every offensive category. He figures to battle for a bench spot on the 25-man roster during Spring Training. As for Putz, who ranks second on the Mariners' all-time saves list with 101, he and his growing family will head east, where he will relinquish the closer job to Rodriguez. "It's not the ideal situation, but having the two of us at the back of the bullpen will be pretty strong," Putz said. "I will not change my approach at all. I will close the game in the eighth and then give the ball to Frankie. The Mets organization is built to win right now, and that's new for me. We will have a very strong ballclub. It will be fun." But before the Big Apple fun really begins, Putz and his wife, Kelsey, will welcome a son to their family, which already includes twin girls. "We have a baby coming in March," Putz said. "I've already talked to Omar about it, and he said I could leave [Spring Training] at any time." When the deal came down, the 3-year-old twins were asleep. "They don't know anything about it, and I'm not sure how I'm going to tell them," Putz said.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.