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Originally published January 8, 2010 at 7:29 PM | Page modified January 9, 2010 at 8:22 PM

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Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez expects to be even better in 2010

Mariners were thrilled with Franklin Gutierrez's play in 2009 and have given him a four-year contract worth $20.5 million.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A much wealthier Franklin Gutierrez left town Friday, but only after first talking about other changes that go beyond his wallet.

Gutierrez has been granted a four-year contract extension — worth $20.5 million, with a club option for a fifth year — by a Mariners club thrilled by all he did on the field and at the plate in 2009.

But Gutierrez, entering only his third full major-league season, expects bigger things in 2010, especially now that sore knees that plagued him throughout last season appear to have healed.

"It feels great now," said Gutierrez, who put up a season of historic proportions defensively according to some advanced statistical measurements and also showed flashes of power in clubbing 18 home runs. "This year was a little different from other years because I didn't play winter ball in Venezuela. So it was different because of that. The good thing is, I took some rest and that was very important for me because I played 152 games last year. It was the first time I'd played so many games. I feel like I rested a lot and that I'm going to be better for spring training this year."

Gutierrez began having tendinitis problems in both knees at spring training and was troubled by recurring pain throughout the season. The Mariners quietly said the knees were causing some of the hitting slumps he fell into at times, though he still emerged with a .283 average and .764 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) to go with 18 homers and 70 runs batted in.

It was a far better offensive showing than in 2008, when he hit only .248 with a .690 OPS, eight homers and 41 RBI.

Gutierrez credits a slight shift to his batting stance, one that allows him to use his legs more for power. And now, with healthier knees on those legs, there is optimism about what Gutierrez might accomplish.

"A center fielder that can hit 20 home runs is pretty special, and can play the kind of defense that he plays," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "When you look at this guy, who hit 18 home runs last year in really his first full season as being a pure center fielder ... maturation is going to work to his favor, because he's going to get stronger just because of the maturation process. He's going to get more familiar with the pitching around the league. He's playing every single day. So all of those things bode well for him."

The extension buys out Gutierrez's remaining three years of arbitration as well as his first year of free agency.

Zduriencik and assistant Tony Blengino first came across Gutierrez years ago when they were with the Milwaukee Brewers and Gutierrez was an outfielder for the Dodgers.

Today, Gutierrez is a key component to what Zduriencik and Blengino hope will be a Mariners team capable of competing for the AL West title. Gutierrez has been down that road before and knows the expectations on this year's team will be higher than the surprising 85-win squad of 2009.

Gutierrez was on a Cleveland team that came within a win of the World Series in 2007, only to fall flat amid heightened expectations in 2008.

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"On paper, you can look like the best team in the world," he said. "But when you go out there you have to do your job. Because it's baseball. Anything can happen. ... I hope this year, in Seattle, we're better than last year. I think we improved a lot and this year, we're going to try to do the best that we can."

In his case, for years to come.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

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