The wait is over as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has agreed to a deal with the Blue Jays worth a reported $22 million over seven years. A little over nine months ago, Gurriel defected Cuba with his brother, Yulieski. Yulieski agreed to a contract with the Astros back in July, but Lourdes—the younger brother—had to wait until the offseason to be exempt from international signing rules that would have suppressed his value.
There is still some conjecture as to whether or not Gurriel’s deal is incentive-laden, like Kenta Maeda’s was last offseason when he signed an eight-year deal worth $25 million. Or perhaps it grants Gurriel a chance to opt-out for arbitration, like Jose Abreu’s.
The 23-year-old Gurriel is capable of playing many positions both in the infield and outfield. In 2015 for Industriales de la Habana of the Cuban National Series, Gurriel shared time at second base, third base, and shortstop, while logging the majority of his playing time in left field.
The Blue Jays could lose three premium bats to free agency this offseason, including their left fielder and right fielder from the 2015 season; Michael Saunders and Jose Bautista. While Gurriel helps shore up one of their absences, it may only be partially. Gurriel is still young and could need substantial time in the minors to reach his potential. However, in 245 plate appearances with Industriales in 2015, Gurriel boasted an on-base percentage above .400 and a .560 slugging percentage.
With the infield relatively set for the Blue Jays, Gurriel likely projects as a future outfielder for the team. The Blue Jays have a lot more needs to address this offseason if they wish to stay in contention, and new general manager Ross Atkins will have his work cut out for him. However, Atkins’ history of signing international free agents was partly the reason new President Mark Shapiro agreed to hire him, and it is already paying dividends.