The news: Yulieski Gurriel, said to be Cuba’s best baseball player, has left Cuba, with every intention of pursuing a career in the majors. The necessary and additional information: Gurriel will turn 32 in June, and he’s mostly a third baseman, though he’s also played second. He’s free of any international spending restrictions, but teams can’t try to spend their money on him yet, and there’s some chance we won’t see Gurriel until 2017. So this is an exciting turn of events that’ll require some patience — Gurriel is virtually certain to become available, but these things have a way of taking their time.
Gurriel has been on the radar for well over a decade. He’s part of what’s been a powerful baseball family in Cuba, and he’s starred on the national team. He also played half a year in Japan, and while he was excellent there, he’s been at his best at home, and in the past Ben Badler compared him offensively to Hanley Ramirez and David Wright. When you talk about performance abroad, I know people don’t always quite trust the statistics, at least in terms of how well they’ll translate, but here’s the latest info I can find: 38 walks and three strikeouts. That’s Gurriel this season. Also, a league-leading .500 batting average, slugging .873. You don’t need to know anything about Cuban baseball to know that Gurriel has been dominant, and the belief is he could help a major-league lineup tomorrow.
There’s not an MLB front office that won’t have some Gurriel conversations. I’m sure hundreds have already taken place. Players like this don’t become available very often, but then it’s not like this is pure upside. Gurriel is probably going to sign after he turns 32, and his best baseball is almost definitely behind him. So he’s more of a short-term player than a long-term player, and then he’s also going to cost a fortune, as a free agent. Hector Olivera signed at a younger age than Gurriel, but he was 30, and Olivera is thought to be worse than Gurriel, and Olivera cleared $60 million. Gurriel might end up getting nine figures, for all I know. That would be steep, but this is a big opportunity.
So let’s try to figure out a market. Yulieski Gurriel isn’t available today. But he should be available before too long, so based on what we know at the moment, what seem like the most likely destinations?
I determined this would be best done as a table. So I built a table with all 30 teams, and then I gave each one a Gurriel fit rating: sure!, ehh, or nah. I need for you to know this is subjective, just my own educated guessing. I don’t know Gurriel or his prospective agents, nor do I talk to every team in either league. But it’s still possible to read the different circumstances. The ratings, explained:
- sure! — Gurriel makes a lot of sense
- ehh — it wouldn’t be a total shock, but I wouldn’t count on it
- nah — almost 0%, with enough built-in likelihood to give me an out if I end up looking stupid
Each team also gets a brief comment, to try to explain the rating. This is based on what we know right now, and it can’t account for future injuries or trades. There will be future injuries and trades, so, you know. Also, think about events we’ve seen in the past — Olivera went to the Dodgers, sure, and Rusney Castillo went to the Red Sox, but then Aroldis Chapman signed with the Reds, and Yoenis Cespedes signed with the A’s. Yasmany Tomas signed with the Diamondbacks. Players don’t always end up with the most obvious fits, but we can still try to rank the fits!
|Angels||sure!||Roster’s good enough to not suck, and there’s an available hole, with little farm support to speak of. Just a luxury-tax hurdle.|
|Astros||ehh||Plenty of flexibility to splurge, but it seems unlikely given Gurriel’s age. Maybe if he were six years younger.|
|Athletics||nah||Surprised with Cespedes and tried with Headley, so they could make a bid, but I doubt it would be close to the top one.|
|Blue Jays||nah||Already so much talk about Bautista and Encarnacion. Nevermind, you know, the Donaldson factor.|
|Braves||nah||Just not good enough, and they’re already paying Olivera and Markakis.|
|Brewers||nah||Doesn’t fit the window of contention, which won’t be open for some time.|
|Cardinals||nah||They seem set enough at second and third, and they’d prefer a good deal less risk.|
|Cubs||nah||They already have too many good players, the poor bastards.|
|Diamondbacks||nah||Signing Tomas was a big deal, but it hasn’t yet gone terrifically well, and it sounds like they’re about out of money.|
|Dodgers||sure!||Turner will be a free agent in a year, and the Dodgers can do whatever they want.|
|Giants||nah||Big-spending team, but now they have a lot of future commitments, plus Duffy and Panik in place.|
|Indians||nah||Gurriel is going to be too old and too expensive for this sort of operation.|
|Mariners||nah||Big money to Seager and bigger money to Cano. Cano might move to first but probably not for another 30+ infielder.|
|Marlins||ehh||This is strictly about Marlin unpredictability. Prado coming up on free agency, and the Marlins are attracted to Cuban players.|
|Mets||ehh||Not an easy fit for 2016, there are obvious budget limitations, and there will be pitchers to sign.|
|Nationals||nah||I believe in the financial capability, but Rendon, Murphy, and Zimmerman all get in the way. Not the right splash.|
|Orioles||nah||This one was almost an “ehh” but I think the risk is too great for Gurriel’s age, and Machado needs an extension. Schoop and Davis in place.|
|Padres||nah||A year ago, perhaps, but now the rebuilding should begin.|
|Phillies||nah||A year later, perhaps, but the rebuilding won’t be far enough along.|
|Pirates||nah||Just funnel it all to McCutchen.|
|Rangers||nah||Right sort of team, but with Beltre, Odor, and Profar, the situation is busy. Someone would have to play first.|
|Red Sox||ehh||They need to learn more about Sandoval. Spending power is there, but Sandoval and Ramirez are big obstacles.|
|Reds||nah||It would be funny, I’ll give them that.|
|Rockies||nah||Let’s put it this way: it would be the wrong investment. I trust the Rockies to recognize that.|
|Royals||nah||Reluctant to spend like the big spenders, especially with Moustakas in place and Infante already getting paid.|
|Tigers||ehh||It fits with the Tigers’ idea that maybe in a year or two the world will explode, but you have to think at some point they’ll stop piling on, and they haven’t spent much internationally.|
|Twins||nah||In theory they could make space, but I bet they’d have to have the top bid by a good amount to lure Gurriel. Can’t see that happening.|
|White Sox||ehh||They spent on Abreu, but they’re getting short on cash, and they have Frazier and Lawrie. Would need to make a move.|
|Yankees||ehh||This is about Headley, this is about Castro, and this is about the Yankees trying to get away from big commitments to older players. Just can’t rule out a splurge.|
This is what I’ve come up with. I’m sure some of you have disagreements, and I’m sure there are some things I haven’t thought about. But as I see it, the Dodgers are a clear fit, which is almost cheating for a writer to suggest. The Dodgers are a fit for almost anyone interesting, and they’re also a year from losing their third baseman. Staying out west, the Angels are also a definite fit, if Arte Moreno is willing to spend the money. Though Gurriel is older than they’d like — though he’s older than everyone would like — he mostly fits the roster, and they don’t have young resources to move around to try to find alternatives. I like the chances of Gurriel going to California.
But I also can’t shake the thought of the Marlins, depending on how Jeffrey Loria feels, and depending on how Gurriel feels about community and being close to home. It’s also pretty easy to see how Gurriel could end up in Boston, provided things don’t get a whole lot better with Pablo Sandoval and/or Hanley Ramirez. The Red Sox are one of those teams that can just spend its problems away, giving a leg up in situations like this.
For the time being, this is where I’ve arrived. As for when Gurriel will arrive, I don’t know the answer to that. I just have an inkling he’ll end up near the Pacific.
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