Astros Sign MLB Ready Cuban Infielder Yulieski Gurriel!
By Eric Huysman
The Astros make the International Free-Agent splash that they promised in 2016 by signing Gurriel.
The Astros have opened their wallet and outbid several teams to sign the 32-year-old Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel to a five-year deal $47.5 million dollar contract via Jesse Sanchez. This is much cheaper than we thought it would take to sign him, but the Astros are in a win now mode and wanted to take a chance on the experienced Gurriel.
No, he has never played in a major league or minor league game, but playing in Cuba is not like playing for the Skeeters. There have been many MLB stars to defect from Cuba to play in the big leagues, such as Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, and Jose Abreu. I know that the Astros took a shot at Abreu but came up short, they didn’t want to make the same mistake. It’s not often that the Astros win on this type of player. They got their guy!
Who is Gurriel, he actually used to go by Yulieski Gourriel, but his family removed the ‘o’ a few years ago? He defected from Cuba in February of 2016 and followed all the proper protocols to get ready to be an MLB free-agent. In the 2015 season, he played 49 games hitting .500 with 15 homers and 51 RBI’s. Some people consider him Cuba’s best player for the last decade, and now he will join the Astros soonish.
He will not join the team this weekend like it was rumored that Alex Bregman would make his debut by Jim Bowden. The Astros will give Gurriel some time in the minor leagues, most likely about 2-3 weeks because he hasn’t played baseball since February. Once he gets his bat speed back where he wants it, they will call him up, and Luis Valbuena will move over to first base. If A.J. Reed is still on the team at that time, they will platoon him up with Evan Gattis at DH.
This plane sound familiar, wait, it’s the plan that we were supposed to use for Bregman who’s future in Houston just got a little more blurry. We have pounded the table for about three weeks demanding that Bregman comes up and make his debut. Now, it is unclear where he could play this season with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve up the middle, and Valbuena needs a place to play with his breakout 2016. This also seals that the Astros will most likely not bring Valbuena back next year.
While this does not affect Reed’s playing time right now, he needs to prove over these next few weeks that he is ready. Reed is supposed to be the future at first base, but what if Gurriel plays third base this year, then plays first base next year. Bregman could then settle in at third base like the Astros planned, and then Reed would be the designated hitter.
The problem with this plan is that Ben Badler rates Gurriel as “a plus defender at third with quick reactions, athleticism, a 70-grade arm, and the occasional mental lapse. He’s a complete hitter who bats from the right side, able to hit for average and draw a walk, and scouts see good bat speed that should translate to plus power in the majors.” This is not the type of player you take away from the hot corner, but Valbuena shows great instincts at third base too.
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After this move, Bregman could be looking at an extended stay in the minors or could be the worm to land a big ace pitcher such as Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, or possibly Chris Sale. I would hate to see the Astros trade Bregman, but we will cross that bridge if it happens. For now, I like the fact that the Astros are putting their money where their mouth is, they did say they would have a big international signing.
Adding a bat like the potential of Gurriel could get the Astros past the first round of the playoffs in 2016. It also gives the Astros a better shot at catching the Rangers for the AL West lead. I wrote an article today about if the Astros would have to react to a Rangers trade for Jonathan Lucroy. I think I had it backwards. It’s time for the Rangers to make their move. The Astros just made a trade deadline move to get Gurriel.
Next: Would Luhnow have to respond if the Rangers get Lucroy?
Let’s let him get back to game speed, then bring him up and hit our way into the playoffs. If he has the potential to be a .300+ hitter in the big leagues, he could be a valuable piece to the current and near future Astros teams. This also opens the door for possible upgrades in the rotation, and maybe we will have a trade before the August 1st deadline after all.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***