Yulieski Gurriel officially became a free agent last week, making the Cuban star into the biggest X-factor of the summer trade market. For teams hesitant to give up young talent in a trade for a current MLB hitter, signing Gurriel would be the intriguing alternative. Why lose both premium prospects and money (in the form of a pre-existing contract) when you could just spend to sign arguably Cuba’s best player?
Of course, trading for a known MLB quantity is also the safer route, as Gurriel has a few question marks. He just turned 32 years old, so (while his recent numbers in Japan and Cuba were as impressive as ever) Gurriel is at best nearing the end of his prime years and at worst would have his decline phase hastened by higher caliber of Major League pitching. Gurriel wouldn’t be an immediate upgrade either, as he’d need at least a few weeks in the minors due to not playing in actual game conditions since defecting in February.
Rightly or wrongly, Gurriel’s stature may also be affected by the fact that several other high-profile Cuban players recently signed to big contracts (i.e. Hector Olivera, Yasmany Tomas, Rusney Castillo) have stumbled at the Major League level, while the likes of Yasiel Puig and to some extent Jose Abreu have struggled after hot starts to their MLB careers. The fact that Gurriel is significantly older and more experienced than almost all of these players could work in his favor, or it could work against him — a younger player could be seen as still able to be molded, whereas if Gurriel is too “set in his ways,” it might quickly become apparent that he isn’t cut out for a long stint in the bigs.
On the flip side, Gurriel’s track record is so impressive that he could be well worth the risk. He has a career .335/.417/.580 slash line and 250 homers over 5491 plate appearances, mostly in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league. Baseball America’s Ben Badler named Gurriel as Cuba’s top player in April 2015, citing his well-rounded approach to the plate, plus raw power, above-average third base defense and ability to be “playable” at second base if a Major League team wanted to use him at the keystone. Badler used Hanley Ramirez and David Wright as “similar value” comps, which certainly sets a high ceiling for Gurriel’s potential in the majors.
Olivera signed a six-year, $62.5MM deal with the Dodgers just before his 30th birthday. Though Gurriel will be over two years older when he signs his MLB contract, MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently speculated that Gurriel could land a similar deal in terms of average annual value, if not length. Something in the range of a four-year, $40-44MM contract seems like a fair estimate as a floor for Gurriel’s deal, possibly with incentive clauses or a fifth-year vesting option included.
Given that Gurriel has said that he would accept not playing with his younger brother “if the circumstances don’t permit it,” Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s market may not be too significant a factor in Yulieski’s free agency. The younger Gurriel hasn’t been declared a free agent yet, and since he doesn’t turn 23 until October 19, he still falls under international bonus pool guidelines. Assuming he doesn’t become a free agent until after the new international market opens on July 2, Lourdes’ market will be short a third of the league (the Angels, Blue Jays, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Rays, Red Sox, Royals and Yankees), as all of those teams are limited to signings of $300K or less due to past overages of the spending pool limits. While it’s certainly possible that one of the other 20 teams could look to sign both Gurriels, by this point it’s more likely that Yulieski will want to begin his MLB career soon and Lourdes will wait until October to maximize his payday…unless a team maneuvers around the international signing rules, as Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron hints.
Taking just the elder Gurriel on his own, however, let’s look at the teams who could be most likely to sign the 32-year-old to fill a need at the hot corner, second base or perhaps even left field.
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently speculated that the Giants could use Gurriel in left next season if Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco leave in free agency. Perhaps more directly, Gurriel could help San Francisco at third either now or in the future, as Matt Duffy is still flashing an excellent glove but has been a sub-replacement level hitter this season.
Gurriel hasn’t played the outfield since 2005, however, so it’s probably unlikely that he would take on essentially a new position on top of all the other adjustments that he’ll face in coming to the major leagues. While the Giants are a team that could use Gurriel in left after a full offseason of preparation, we can probably write off clubs that could use a left field upgrade now but are otherwise set at third and second. By this reasoning, I’d argue the Diamondbacks, Mariners, Nationals, Red Sox and Rockies probably won’t be in on Gurriel.
Likewise, a few other contenders or non-contenders can probably also be written out due to a lack of positional need or due to the fact that they’re rebuilding: the Blue Jays, Brewers, Cardinals, Orioles, Pirates, Rangers, Rays, Tigers, Twins and Yankees.
(Bronx fans may balk at their team being included on that list given how little Chase Headley and Starlin Castro have produced, though I don’t find the Yankees to be a great match for Gurriel. Headley and Castro are respectively under contract through 2018 and 2019, and the Yankees front office is less open to eating money on contracts than in past years. As much as Gurriel may like to play for the Yankees and with former Cuban teammate Aroldis Chapman, NJ Advance Media’s Brendan Kuty notes that adding another pricey mid-30’s player doesn’t make sense for the aging Yankees roster.)
I didn’t include every rebuilding team on that list, as teams like the Braves and Reds aren’t planning on being bottom-dwellers for very long. (Atlanta, in particular, could look to contend as soon as next season when its new ballpark opens.) It would admittedly be surprising to see either Atlanta or Cincinnati sign Gurriel, though it wouldn’t be out of the question given how both clubs lack a long-term answer at third base.
It’s worth noting that the Braves and Reds are also two teams with the international pool space to make a play for Lourdes Gurriel before October, so they could aim to sign both brothers. The Braves are known to be planning a big splurge in the coming international signing period, while the Reds may already be approaching their 2016-17 pool limit due to their apparent agreement with Alfredo Rodriguez, so they could decide to make a bigger splash by pursuing Lourdes. The Phillies face a longer rebuilding period, though as Dave Cameron noted in his previously-linked piece, they could also aim to sign both Gurriel brothers and perhaps then even shop Yulieski in a year or two if he establishes himself as a quality MLB player.
The Marlins are probably set in the infield with Martin Prado at third and Derek Dietrich at second, with Dee Gordon due back from his 80-game suspension in August. Miami is usually connected to Cuban players in rumors based on geography alone, however, and there is a long-term scenario where signing Gurriel makes sense. The Fish could sign Gurriel and then trade Prado (a free agent this winter), though they are said to be loath to trade a piece from their Major League roster. Gordon’s ineligibility for postseason play looms larger with the Fish in the NL wild card hunt, so another infield upgrade isn’t out of the question.
The White Sox, A’s, Padres and Angels are all somewhat in the same boat as clubs who could perhaps be best served by a rebuild but still have an eye towards contending this year or reloading for 2017. All four teams, therefore, can’t be written out as contenders for Gurriel, especially since Todd Frazier is the only second or third baseman on any of the clubs who’s playing like a solid long-term piece (and even Frazier has slumped to near replacement-level after a hot start).
Chicago could look to move Frazier to DH given his suddenly poor defensive metrics, or the Sox could use Gurriel at second in place of the struggling Brett Lawrie. Oakland may have a sudden opening at third if Danny Valencia is traded, though while the A’s have made some big international signings in the past, they may not be able to afford Gurriel’s price tag. San Diego is another team known to be planning a big international spending spree, so the Padres could also factor into the Lourdes Gurriel package deal as well. The Angels’ woeful farm system leaves them unable to trade for big upgrades, so signing a player like Gurriel may be the best way to add a premium talent. Gurriel’s deal would likely put the Halos over the luxury tax limit for two seasons in a row, unless they can unload enough salary to get under the threshold either this year or next.
The Cubs and Astros have needs at third base now, though they’re both potentially so stocked with young talent that signing a 32-year-old may not make much sense. Chicago could sign Gurriel and then move Kris Bryant or Ben Zobrist to left, which would handle the Cubs’ need in that position. Once Kyle Schwarber returns healthy next year, however, that leaves the Cubs with a position glut. The Astros could use Gurriel now to solidify third, moving Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Valbuena into their very unsettled first base mix. For the future, Gurriel may not have a spot in Houston unless he plays DH or (like the Giants scenario) he moves to left to replace a departed free agent (in this case, Colby Rasmus). Top prospect Alex Bregman is ripping up Double-A pitching and has already seen some time at third base in preparation for a future position change since Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve have the middle infield locked down.
The Royals and Mets both have clear needs at third with Mike Moustakas and David Wright on the DL. Gurriel could step right in as Kansas City’s third baseman, and once Moustakas returns next year, Gurriel could shift to second (provided that Whit Merrifield ever comes back to Earth) or get time at DH should Kendrys Morales leave in free agency.
Gurriel could likewise play third base for New York in Wright’s absence and then be an option at second in 2017 if Neil Walker leaves in free agency. Perhaps the likelier scenario, however, is that Dilson Herrera plays second and Gurriel remains at third with Wright transitioning to first base (both to keep him healthy and for defensive reasons).
Both K.C. and New York could face issues meeting Gurriel’s price tag, however, a problem shared by the Indians — Cleveland has scouted both Gurriel brothers but probably can’t afford either. Jose Ramirez’s breakout year as a utilityman as put him in the conversation for the Tribe’s third base situation, though the club is still lacking a long-term answer. For this season, it’s more likely that the Indians will try to get by with Ramirez and Juan Uribe rather than sign Gurriel.
This leaves the Dodgers, which is perhaps fitting since they’ve expressed interest in Gurriel and have also easily been baseball’s biggest spenders in the Cuban market in recent years. L.A. has received relatively little production for all the millions spent on Cuban players, though given the franchise’s seemingly endless budget for international spending, the Dodgers seem perfectly willing to keep spending until they find paydirt.
Justin Turner and Chase Utley are second and third in fWAR among Dodgers position players, though they’re going in opposite directions; Turner has gotten hot after a slow start and Utley has had a rough June after playing well in April and May. Both are free agents after the season, so Los Angeles could use Gurriel at third or second in 2017 if one or both of Turner/Utley leaves. For this year, Gurriel could step in at second if Utley’s numbers begin to resemble his subpar 2015 stats, or the Dodgers are one of the few teams that could afford to have Gurriel as a glorified reserve player for the rest of the season.
Since Gurriel’s market has technically just opened up, it’s tough to forecast when exactly he could sign. Some teams could wait until Lourdes Gurriel’s free agency is granted, in order to negotiate with both brothers as a package deal. Others may prefer to explore some less expensive infield upgrades (e.g. Danny Valencia) before making on an eight-figure outlay on a player with no Major League experience. As various second and third basemen either come off the trade board or see their asking prices rise to unreasonable heights, however, Gurriel will become more attractive as a potentially simple way to add infield pop.
I’d love to see him w. the Mets…as his upside (assuming he makes the transition) is that of a $75-$100m+ player. The Mets are resistant to trading any of their top-end pitching, so this would be the best way to acquire top talent. He is a risk bc of his age and the talent jump, but they have a need like few other teams….with their hideously anemic offense as of late.
From the “outside the box” section….. Cubs could sign him to play 3rd and move Bryant to LF.
Oh man…that would be disgusting (in a good way). They should have some concern about their pitching over the next few years, but they should easily be able to field the most talented lineup in the majors for years to come.
The Cubs already have another solid 3B option in Javier Baez. Javy is showing gold glove defense and has been much improved at the plate this year. I don’t think Yulieski is an option for Chicago’s north side.
While I do agree that Yulieski isn’t a great option for the Cubs, both of your points on Javy are pretty inaccurate. His defense at third has been pretty average, and he hasn’t really improved all that much at the plate. He only has a .921 fielding percentage at third, and his range has been basically average. His DRS is also negative at third… On offense, his strikeout rate is down, which is nice, but his walk rate is down too. His BB/SO is basically the same as last year. He’s not getting on base, and he’s shown only a slight increase in power. His line drive percentage is down significantly, his soft hit percentage is up significantly, and he’s pulling the ball way too much. His advanced stats have been much more similar to 2014 than 2015 (which would be a downgrade). Luckily, he has cut down on the strikeouts, which is a huge improvement. But to say he’s been “much improved” is a stretch at best.
They don’t need Yulieski because they won’t have a spot for him once Schwarber is back. Sure, it could work this year with moving Bryant to left, but where does that leave Bryant/Schwarber next year? They’d be better off rotating between Bryant/Baez/whoever else at 3B/LF this year and waiting for Schwarber to get back next year. Then Baez can go back to the super utility role until Zobrist is done. Yulieski would just be a waste of money and space.
Ideally I’d love him to sight at 3/$34 with a 4th year club option of $12m, but he’ll probably get 4yrs up front if there are more teams bidding on him.
Don’t the Dodgers have exactly this guy in Howie Kendrick? 32 year old who plays 2B, 3B and a little LF?
Well if goes know then mostly likely sign with contender but if he want to play with his brother . Which has come out he does . And you add to fact this not about money since they come from money in Cuba . Then I could see one team that he could come to and start at third base and his brother bye some time next year could come up and play with him and that is Atlanta Braves . Ex specially since they let it know they will go over the spend limit this year. Braves news bats and with 3rd base and really 2nd base not lock down yet . Don’t give me albies . Where I like him he still not up and proved him self at majors . And in tell any prospect no matter how great they mite be in minors . The majors is different beast. So like saying 3b, 2b and once they trade beckham and Aybar they will not have proven as on the roster so going into next year I would put ss in tell Swanson and albies prove them self to be every day short stop in the majors. I still like my trades . They make since but we will see .
Don’t know which I liked better “ex specially” or “in tell.”
Wow, you bothered to try to interpret that?!
He claims a 148 I.Q. though
Yeah, the Cubs have a need at 3B… That Bryant guy sucks.
Lol. I also thought it didn’t make much sense when I read it, but they were talking about moving Bryant to LF permanently. I don’t think the Cubs need him because they can play Baez at 3B until Schwarber comes back next year to play LF, and Baez has been hitting well enough to keep getting starts.
How can you put a comp value of David Wright and Hanley Ramirez on a guy that’s 32 years old and never had any major league dirt on his spikes??? Come on Ben!!
Where is Gurriel now? I would expect him to sign with an independent team just to get up to speed. Mets could absolutely use this guy and his little brother when the time comes.
Well he played in Japan so he’s not as rusty as a lot of Cuban players. Why risk serious injury at this point when his probably only huge paycheck is right around the corner?
Yanks should be in on both brothers and be open to every trade avenue possible to trade Castro and Headley even if it means eating some of Headley money owed to him. This Guriel bat is suppose to be middle of order and if you attach his brother you now have a better farm system.
Why would they trade Castro.
Jorge Soler Powered
How many more Cuban flops will it take before teams stop paying for these guys? If a team wants to sign a Cuban who can play 3B, I heard Alex Guerrero is a FA. And could probably put up the same numbers as this guy, all the while being paid mostly by L.A.
I don’t know if they quit signing them, or simply cut down on bonus money by a significant amount until they are seen more, which players should be able to now with cuba ‘supposedly” a more open society we are told by our fearless leader.
Rusney Castillo for instance, isn’t without his positives. He’s a really good defensive OF who also runs very well. He just hits at the ball downward and plays the game with his head somewhere it really isn’t capable of reaching.. You know.. Like BJ Upton has been for the last several years, at least until this year.. Maybe it’s because Castillo got all that money and came from nothing, or maybe he he just doesn’t care.. I don’t know, but u watch him play and he makes some of the most ill conceived mistakes imaginable, just like Upton.
I lay it on the money aspect myself. Call it the Candy Maldonado effect.. Original culprit.
Meh, I’m over the Cuban invasion.. outside of Cespedes and Chapman, none have become major starts. Puig’s numbers have gone down every year. Abreu still playing well but not like his rookie year.
Rusney is a bust. as well as several others…
C’mon Jorge do your homework (start with Baseball America, http://www.baseballamerica.com/tag/yulieski-gourriel/). No Cuban has put up the numbers he has and over such a considerable amount of time. Not seasons, decades. He has not only played, but starred, against some of the world’s best talent in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classics (BTW, how many gold medals does the US have, eh?). Plus, even if he doesn’t hit MLB pitching, like that poseur Alex Guerrero, he plays gold glove level defense at multiple positions, hardly ever strikes out and essentially walks as frequently as he kays, so his talent floor is still replacement player level, if not considerably higher. BA’s Ben Badler has proven his knowledge of talent and if he says the guy plays like David Wright or Hanley Ramirez, in their primes, then it speaks volumes of his upside. A very smart team will not let this kind of talent slip away.
Hello, White Sox. Since they’re opposed to rebuilding, they might as well add a potentially nice bat in his prime.