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Astros: Analyzing chances of Yuli Gurriel returning in 2021

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 29: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros looks on from the dugout against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park on July 29, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 29: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros looks on from the dugout against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park on July 29, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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What are the chances that Yuli Gurriel returns to the Houston Astros in 2021?

The next year and a half is going to be pivotal for the Houston Astros. George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are set for free agency this winter, while Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Roberto Osuna would follow after 2021. Keeping all of them will be impossible.

The focus this offseason will be on Springer, and rightfully so. He’s been one of the team’s core players over the past half-decade and was the 2017 World Series MVP. Brantley and Reddick seem more and more likely to move on, but what of Gurriel?

The 36-year-old is coming off a career-best season in 2019 both at the plate and in the field. He’s playing well again in 2020, and if he keeps it up, he could find himself as the best first baseman on the free agent market. His primary competition could include Carlos Santana, Daniel Murphy, Mitch Moreland and Justin Smoak.

Gurriel probably wouldn’t command more than a two-year commitment given that he’ll turn 37 next year, but he could earn a raise on the $8.4 million he would have earned in a 162-game season this year. Strong defense and another solid campaign at the plate could net him $20-30 million over two years, depending on how the market plays out.

Can the Astros Afford Him?

Gurriel is on record as saying he’d like to return to the Astros, so the interest is certainly there. The team would probably like to have him back as well, but the question isn’t whether the two sides would like a reunion — it’s whether the team would be willing to commit the money. That is yet to be determined.

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The presence of Taylor Jones on the roster could be a big factor, as the team has an in-house replacement already. With Springer, Reddick and Brantley all hitting free agency, there’s a much greater need in the outfield. If the team succeeds in retaining Springer, that’s going to chew up a huge chunk of whatever payroll space they have.

If Springer walks, the Astros will need at least two outfielders. If Verlander and Osuna need surgery in the offseason, there will also be needs on the pitching staff, especially in the bullpen. The team already has $115 million committed to just seven players in 2021 and will have to factor in raises for Correa and McCullers, plus the salaries of the remaining players.

Osuna’s status will be a big payroll factor, as the team could non-tender him if he needs Tommy John surgery. If not, however, he’ll get more than the $10 million he was set to earn this season, which will leave even less room for Gurriel.

The bottom line is that, with more pressing needs in the outfield and on the pitching staff, the best use of the team’s resources might not be to retain Gurriel when Jones is presumably ready to take the reins. Gurriel is an important player on this team and won’t be someone we want to leave, but the front office might not have much choice.

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