Cuban star Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen reports (Twitter links). Gurriel is subject to international bonus pools now since he is just 22 years old, though he’ll be free of any spending restrictions when he turns 23 on October 19.
The expectation is that Gurriel won’t sign until after his next birthday, as his market will be open to all 30 teams. Ten teams (including such big spenders as the Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees) are currently limited to signings of no more than $300K for pool-eligible international players, as the clubs exceeded their pool limits in either of the last two years. Since teams beyond those ten may not want to exceed their own pool for a big splash on Gurriel, it only makes sense that Gurriel and his representatives at WMG would wait until after October 19 to ensure the maximum number of suitors given the wide interest in Gurriel’s talents.
Gurriel has a career .277/.362/.426 line over 1098 career plate appearances in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, with much of his success coming in the last two years. In a scouting report from April 2015 (subscription required), Baseball America’s Ben Badler ranked Gurriel as the fourth-best player in Cuba at the time, crediting his patient approach at the plate, bat speed and good command of the strike zone. Gurriel has “a chance to be a plus hitter with a high OBP” with potential 20-homer power. Gurriel has played all four infield positions and in left field during his brief career, mostly recently getting a chance at shortstop. Badler doubts he has the range to stick at the position in the majors, though he could be a plus defender at third base. There are some cons, however, as Longenhagen tweets that Gurriel has received some “mixed” reports from scouts — he has a long swing and may be a “bit of a project for 23.”
Concerns notwithstanding, Gurriel will certainly receive a bonus well into the eight-figure range. Many teams will check in, though the Astros stand out as an obvious candidate since they have already signed Gurriel’s older brother Yulieski. The younger Gurriel will require probably a year or two of minor league seasoning, which could give Houston give to figure out where exactly it would fit him into a lineup already stocked with established and young talent (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, A.J. Reed and Yulieski himself) at Gurriel’s potential positions. Yulieski has spoken in the past about playing with his brother under ideal circumstances, though he acknowledged the difficulties in such an arrangement given how the two are at such different stages of their careers.