The reigning American League batting champion and Gold Glove candidate, Yuli Gurriel, is back. Gurriel, himself, announced that the Houston Astros are picking up his one-year option for 2022.
After coming off one of his best seasons since making the move to Major League Baseball, the Astros were obviously going to grab that $8 million option without hesitation, which, in hindsight, proves to be a bargain for the club.
Gurriel, who played a majority of his career in Cuba, hit .319 with 15 homers, 81 RBI and a career-high 59 walks in 143 regular-season games. The 37-year-old first baseman became only the second player in Houston Astros history to win a batting title.
While many fans agree that this move is a complete no-brainer, some folks did not share that same sentiment. Gurriel was a core member of the team during the sign-stealing crusade lead by MLB against the Astros.
The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked his Top 50 Free Agents, while not having too many kind words for Yuli Gurriel.
"“I’d give him a one-year deal for his contact rate, hoping his newfound patience sticks around, but he’s a bad first baseman,” Law said about ranking Gurriel No. 26. “And probably doesn’t have the power to be more than an average regular there or at DH.”"
That is a bold statement for a player who is coming off a World Series run as a starter at first base, a top-three finalist for an AL Gold Glove, and the AL batting champion.
While the drop in power, specifically home runs, could raise an eyebrow with concern for many casual on-lookers, Gurriel’s 15 home runs were only six less than his career 162-game average of 21 since joining the Astros in 2016.
After a dismal ’20 season (like many major-leaguers), Gurriel spent no time bouncing back. He was no less clutch in delivering timely contact.
In the AL, Gurriel ranked first in batting average, second in on-base-percentage, sixth in singles and first in sacrifice flies. In the ’21 postseason alone, Gurriel slashed .311/.364/.367 with 10 runs-batted-in.
On the defensive side of the ball, Gurriel had a dazzling season at first base whether you fancy yourself an old-school, eye-test kind of fan or a fan who digs into the advanced metrics.
He dug out so many plays from the rest of the infield this season that you’d think he was fielding a big, old scoop shovel. This season, Gurriel ranked first in assists and total zone runs, third in putouts, fourth in field percentage, and fifth in double plays turned as a first baseman.
While Gurriel’s option was picked up, relief pitcher Ryan Pressly’s ’22 $10 million option fully vested from his surpassing a threshold during the regular season.