Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gurriel has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball and is now free to sign with any team, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). Gurriel, who just turned 32 last Thursday, is widely considered to be one of the top talents on the international market (if not the top talent). Because of his age and extensive professional experience in Cuba, Gurriel will not be subject to international spending limitations. He’s free to sign a Major League deal with the highest bidder, and Andy McCullough of the L.A. Times tweets that the Dodgers have expressed interest.
In parts of 15 professional seasons between Cuba and Japan, Gurriel is a .335/.417/.580 hitter with 250 home runs in 5491 plate appearances. Baseball America’s Ben Badler rated Gurriel as the No. 1 player in Cuba last spring, calling him an above-average defender at third base that had plus raw power as well as the ability to get on base at a high clip and hit for average. Badler noted that Gurriel has a 70-grade arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and is also capable of playing second base, even if he profiles best at the hot corner. While Gurriel is an MLB-ready talent, the lengthy layoff he’s had from playing in a game setting makes it likely that he’d require a tune-up at the minor league level before jumping into a Major League lineup.
While Gurriel’s advanced age may limit his earning power to some extent, as he’s most likely in the late stages of his prime, it seems that he should be able to secure a lucrative multi-year deal in free agency. Because he hasn’t been eligible to sign, there’s been very little talk about what type of contract his representatives at the Wasserman Media Group will pursue in negotiations with MLB teams, but today’s news should again bring Gurriel’s name to the forefront of the rumor mill. For some context, Hector Olivera inked a six-year, $62.5MM contract with the Dodgers at the age of 30, so there’s certainly precedent for a very significant payday for a Cuban free agent even if his 20s have passed. While Gurriel may not be able to challenge that type of contract length, there’s certainly reason to believe that he could look to achieve a similar, if not greater average annual value than Olivera ($10.41MM) or Jose Abreu ($11.33MM), though that’s purely my own speculation.
The timeline for Gurriel’s younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., to be declared a free agent remains unclear. The 22-year-old reportedly left Cuba at the same time as his older brother and hired the same representation, but there has yet to be any report that he’s secured free agency from MLB as well. Unlike his older brother, Lourdes would be subject to international spending limitations, although if he signs after his 23rd birthday (October 19), that would no longer be the case. There’s been some talk in the past about the possibility of the brothers signing as a package deal, but Yulieski’s earlier timeline to free agency could conceivably make that less realistic.