Let’s go back in time to 2020. On September 29, just hours before the beginning of the postseason, the Astros extended Yuli Gurriel’s contract for one more year plus a club option for 2022. At the moment, that was kind of a surprising move because many people were wondering whether Gurriel’s prime had passed as he was having an abysmal season and he was already 36 years old.
In a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gurriel posted an ugly .232/.274/.384 slash line with only 22 runs batted in throughout 57 games. And it wasn’t any better in September, a month where he slashed .154/.168/.209 in 25 contests. Somehow, GM James Click trusted in Gurriel and bought low on him with a $6.5 million, one-year deal that included a $500K buyout and incentives based on plate appearances.
That agreement was completed by an $8MM option for 2022. And what the Astros should do right now is to pick that up and shake hands with their first baseman once again.
First, they don’t have a clear replacement for Yuli at first base in the short term. Obviously, they could get someone via trade, sign someone from the open market, or even try an in-house option. But no one would be as established, as better, nor as affordable as the 37-year-old veteran. Sure, you might be thinking about moving his countryman Yordan Álvarez to the first bag. And that’s a move that should happen eventually, but not just yet.
Second, Gurriel has proved he’s got plenty of gas in the tank. He got to Thursday’s game as the batting average leader in the American League, with a .317 clip. And besides his average, he’s showing an .839 OPS with 31 doubles, 14 home runs, 79 RBIs, 80 scored runs, 165 total hits, 59 walks, and only 66 strikeouts.
Beyond his great traditional stats, Gurriel still has an elite contact percentage (86.2%) and his exit velocity average (89.8 MPH) is even a bit higher than in 2020 (89.3 MPH). And the best part of everything is that Yuli combines his excellent hitting skills with an above-average defense at first.
Third, and this is sort of subjective thinking, exercising his club option right before the 2021 postseason could put Gurriel in a more comfortable position entering the playoffs. Sometimes, that could translate into a torrid, offensive span. Isn’t this the right time to recognize Gurriel for his great 2021 season while also expecting him to shine in October? Am I just nuts or it sounds reasonable? Let us know in the comments!