SUNDAY: Gurriel will become a free agent at the conclusion of his contract, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter links), even though the infielder will be short of the standard six years of Major League service time. The Astros (or whichever club controls Gurriel after the 2020 season) can issue him a qualifying offer, provided the QO still exists in the new collective bargaining agreement.
SATURDAY: The Astros have officially announced the deal.
FRIDAY: The Astros have agreed to a five-year, $47.5MM deal with infielder Yulieski Gurriel, Yussef Diaz of PelotaCubanaBlog.com was first to report. The 32-year-old infielder makes for an interesting pre-deadline addition for the streaking Houston franchise.
Whether or not Gurriel will make a major impact in the present season remains to be seen. That’s not due to developmental considerations — he has long been considered a top-flight talent who is more than ready for the majors — so much as the need for preparation. Gurriel hasn’t played competitively since the end of the 2015 season in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.
His most recent performance, though, only heightens the intrigue surrounding his MLB arrival. Long a star in the top Cuban league, Gurriel topped his own standards in a season for the ages. Over 224 plate appearances, he recorded a hit in exactly half of his at-bats, took 38 walks while striking out just three times, and knocked 15 long balls en route to a .874 slugging percentage.
Then, there’s the question of how the ’Stros will deploy Gurriel. The organization already has a superstar combination up the middle, with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, which would seem to make Gurriel a fit at third. But highly touted shortstop prospect Alex Bregman is pressing for a call-up, and he too would seemingly command a spot on the left side of the infield.
It’s certainly possible that Bregman will beat Gurriel to the majors, as he is obviously already in mid-season playing form. But if the two both vie for time this year, it seems that Gurriel will be the choice at third, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that Houston sees him fitting at the hot corner. It’s impossible to imagine the Astros dealing Correa or Alture, while Bregman would be untouchable for anything short of a top-end, controllable starter, so there seems to be a bit of a logjam here. Either the youngster or (perhaps more likely) the veteran Cuban could ultimately end up in the corner outfield — whether this year or in the future.
Regardless of how that’s sorted, Houston obviously expects Gurriel to bring not only smooth glovework but also a big bat with him to the majors. Gurriel has spent most of his career knocking around Cuban pitching with a 1.000+ OPS. He did spend some time in Japan, though, which also helps to guide expectations. In 258 plate appearances in the top-level NPB back in 2014, Gurriel slashed .305/.349/.536 with 11 home runs and 40 punch-outs to go with 15 walks. That’s certainly excellent, but it’s not quite the superhuman output that he’s run up in his home nation.
The five-year term of the contract will include the present season, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports (via Twitter). Gurriel is set to earn $3.5MM for that partial campaign, with salaries of $14MM, $12MM, $10MM, and $8MM lined up for the four years to come.
Houston has been in the process of ramping up its payroll after cutting it to the bare minimum in 2013. The club sat at $96.9MM as of Opening Day of this year but will now push past $100MM for the second time in franchise history (back in 2009). But with the league flush with cash, and the Astros turning out a compelling product on the field, that number continues to rise.
Notably, the ’Stros had been committed to less total future spending than they just promised to Gurriel for the 2017-2020 campaigns. Houston was obligated for less than $20MM next year, another $8MM in the following campaign, and only a $500K buyout to Jonathan Singleton for 2019. Even with Gurriel on board, and big arbitration raises lined up for players like Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Collin McHugh, and Will Harris, the Astros ought to have plenty of payroll flexibility to work with.