Sometimes, rumors have truth to them, even for a secretive, tight-lipped organization like the Astros. On Friday afternoon, a story broke that the Astros were signing Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel to a five-year, $47.5 million contract.
To put that in perspective, that makes him the ninth-highest paid third baseman in the majors. At 32, the right-handed hitter has yet to play a game in the major leagues.
Yeah. I'm pretty stunned too. This analytics-driven organization just paid top-dollar for an aging infielder who hasn't ever played in the high minors before and hasn't played baseball period in a year. Who projects to hit 15-18 home runs with an .285 batting average according to Jesse Sanchez.
And they expect him to be a part of the team this season, if you can trust Ken Rosenthal.
#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
Yup, I'm there too. See, the Astros already have a pretty competent third baseman named Luis Valbuena, who currently has the second-highest OPS on the team. He can and has played first base in the past, so he could easily slide over there while Gurriel plays third, but we're just assuming the old guy is going to transition that quickly?
What's more probable is the Astros are thinking ahead in this situation. They know Valbuena is a free agent after the season and the odds of them keeping him probably aren't great. He's a nice piece, but may not be the guy they want to give $50 million to over the next five years.
It also means three of the Astros four infield spots are locked up for at least three or four years. With two more starters (Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez) scheduled to hit free agency this winter, the Astros may have just wanted more roster security.
Right, right. Jim Bowden got everyone riled up about Alex Bregman over the break when we didn't have baseball. Since we've already established that the Astros have basically locked up three infield spots for the next few years, where does Bregman play? Not shortstop. Not second base. And now, not third base.
Maybe left field? We'll know when switches positions in the minors, I guess. He still hasn't done this, by the way. So far in Triple-A, Bregman has stuck to shortstop. To me, that seems like a sign he's not getting called up this year at all (or only in the event of an unspeakable injury).
You know who's also screwed over? Preston Tucker. Dude just rakes, right? And now, he's going to fight the guy the prospect world went crazy over during the Futures Game for playing time. And all Tucker did was acquit himself well in the majors last year and get beat out by The Great White in spring training. We all feel for you Preston. Please don't be this generation's Jason Lane.
Judging by that last Rosenthal tweet, sounds like Gurriel will need a few weeks to get ready before he plays in the majors. Give him a month. That puts him up just after the trade deadline with a good six weeks to prove he can contribute before the playoffs.
(This still blows my mind. A team making a run at the playoffs is going to give a completely MLB-unproven player six weeks to make an impact before the postseason! What???)
It also means that the team won't be addressing the problem at first base at the deadline. Why get someone to play there when you know you'll have Valbuena getting plenty of time over there in a month?
If they don't address their only real weakness and they may not address starting pitching, what do the Astros do tat the deadline? Right now, bet on nothing.
I can't even...
Bottom line is this: you don't pay a guy almost $50 million and not play him. Gurriel will be up this year if he's ready. If he's not, he'll be starting somewhere next year. That changes this roster drastically.
The only silver lining may be his brother.
Yes, the Gurriel brothers come in pairs. Lourdes Gurriel is a 22-year-old outfield prospect who projects with more star power than Yulieski. He's not currently a free agent and may not be for some time. He also may opt to sign after he turns 23, which means he's free of any restrictions of the international signing pool.
If the Astros get both as a package deal, this makes more sense. It still doesn't make sense, but it'll be mitigated by the nice prospect they'll pay handsomely later on.