As the Astros adjust to a “post-Marwin world,” Yuli Gurriel appears to be the next utility infielder.
As valuable as Marwin Gonzalez has been to the Astros, the team almost seems resigned to lose him in free agency. He’ll have no shortage of suitors, possibly leaving the Astros without their super-utility man. Enter Gurriel.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow indicated Gurriel would take on more of a utility role next season in the event that Gonzalez does indeed depart. While primarily a first baseman over the past two seasons, Gurriel was a third baseman when he came to Houston, and he also has experience at second. He could also fill in at shortstop and left field in a pinch.
While I would be hesitant to play Gurriel at short, Alex Bregman could slide over in the event Carlos Correa is hurt or needs a day off. You might lose a little defensively going from Gonzalez to Gurriel, but you’d still have a helpful bat to move around the infield. And making this move would create some flexibility on the roster.
Opportunity for White
While Tyler White essentially supplanted the departing Evan Gattis as DH down the stretch, he’s also well suited to play first base. Gurriel will certainly still get at-bats at first, but moving him around would allow White to get in the lineup at first as well. That opens up some DH at-bats if A.J. Hinch wants to rotate players and give them a half-day off.
Gonzalez’s departure means there could be a full slate of at-bats available for White. Both Gonzalez and Gurriel tallied more than 550 plate appearances in 2018, to say nothing of the 688 combined plate appearances between White and Gattis. Some of that was due to injuries to Correa and Altuve, of course, but there will still be plenty of playing time for White.
Room to Add a Bat
The Astros would, of course, love to add some more punch to the offense after it struggled at times in 2018. If they are intent on giving Kyle Tucker every chance to win the left field job (as they should be), that leaves room for a first baseman or DH.
Of course the top free agent option there is Nelson Cruz, in whom the team has already shown interest. He would strictly be a DH, but he’s a bona fide slugger who would fit perfectly in the middle of the order. If they strike out on Cruz, a fallback option could be first baseman Matt Adams. He’s a lefty, which would complement the righties White and Gurriel, and he popped 21 homers in just 337 plate appearances in 2018.
The trade market could also be an option. If the Astros want to make a big splash, Paul Goldschmidt could be available to provide an All-Star bat and Gold Glove defense. The team could also make another run at Jose Abreu.
In short, if Gonzalez does end up wearing another uniform next season, the Astros are still in good shape.