Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com is reporting that Cuban defector Yulieski Gurriel has agreed to a five year $47.5 million deal with the Houston Astros, though the Astros have yet to confirm it. Gurriel is the 32 year old brother of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has yet to be cleared to sign. The brothers defected in February in the Dominican Republic following the Caribbean World Series. Gurriel primarily played third base in Cuba.
Gurriel has been described as one of the greatest players in recent Cuban history and was the best player in Cuba before he left. He played for the Yokohama DeNa BayStars as recently as 2014, and hit .304/.349/.536. He figures to have mid-range line drive power.
It’s a surprising move for the Astros, who stumbled out of the gate, but who have gotten strong production out of Luis Valbuena (.269/.364/.474) this year and have former second overall pick Alex Bregman seemingly ready to contribute in the majors within weeks. Still, Ken Rosenthal says that his debut could come very soon:
#Astros' plan, per source, is to play Gurriel at 3B once he is ready, possibly in three weeks or so. Unclear what this means for Bregman.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 15, 2016
Teams have gotten a lot of value out of Cuban imports in recent years, with Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes becoming stars quickly after signing. Presumably, Gurriel’s age and the high profile failures of Hector Olivera and Rusney Castillo made him take a bit of a discount, however. It’s also possible that the Astros signed Gurriel to increase the likelihood that they can sign Lourdes when he files for free agency in the fall.
The Astros, at least seem to have enough faith that they’ll insert him right into the wild card race. In that case, maybe Valbuena slides across to first base, where Houston has struggled to get production, for the rest of the year. They could also use him to try to acquire some pitching for the stretch run. Or maybe they’ll just hold off on bringing up Bregman until three weeks into next year to gain an extra year of control over the youngster.