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An Astros’ Cuban dilemma: Yuli Gurriel or José Abreu?

Re-signing Yuli or going all in with Abreu is what the Astros are thinking after Anthony Rizzo signed with Yankees.

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MLB: AUG 10 Astros at White Sox Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Astros don’t have a first baseman for 2023. After the World Series, Yuli Gurriel became a free agent, leaving a huge hole at first base. In the next few weeks or months, the Astros front office must decide what to do. Fortunately, there have been some clues for us outside their thinking.

Reportedly, the Astros were pushing to acquire veteran Anthony Rizzo but he ended up re-signing with the Yankees. After that, according to The Athletic, the Astros set their sights on José Abreu and Gurriel. So, it seems there’s a good chance to see one of them playing first base for Houston next season. Should the ‘Stros go after Abreu or try to re-sign soon-to-be 39-year-old Gurriel?

From an objective standpoint, Abreu seems the logical option here. Throughout nine years with the White Sox, the Cuban slugger was an absolute star averaging 34 doubles, 27 home runs, and 96 runs batted in per season. His successful track record includes a Rookie of the Year award in 2014, three Silver Sluggers, and one MVP award back in 2020.

Despite dropping a bit of his power in 2022 –he only hit 15 homers—, Abreu registered 40 doubles and even was a better hitter. He lowered his strikeout percentage from 21.7 to 16.2, kept a great exit velocity average (92.2 MPH), and his contact percentage keeps raising through the years: 69.9% in 2020, 72.3% in 2021, and 76.8% in 2022.

Besides, Abreu served as a leader in the White Sox clubhouse and as a mentor for the young guys, especially with Latin prospects. He raised a respectful figure and wasn’t linked to any on-field or off-field problem or controversy during his tenure with Chicago. Those are additional factors that always play a role.

When it comes to Gurriel, we all know what his 2022 was like. Even though Yuli hit 40 doubles too, he was too inconsistent at the plate (.242/.288/.360/.647) and struck out more than ever (73 Ks, 12.5 SO%), though his strikeout numbers were still good compared to the rest of the league.

While Yuli will turn 39 on June 9, Abreu will be 36 on January 29. It seems that it’s gonna be a key whether the Astros want a long-term solution or a short-term one while they find a replacement for the years to come.

What I mean is they can re-sign Yuli for one more year if they think a better replacement could be on the way. Next year, barring any extension, Rhys Hoskins, CJ Cron, and Ji-Man Choi will hit the open market as free agents – also, Max Muncy could join them should the Dodgers not exercise his club option.

Bringing back Gurriel could only work with his own help. The Astros might want to preserve the team’s chemistry and give the old veteran one more year. At the end of the day, Yuli is still a quality hitter even though good things weren’t on his side during the 2022 regular season.

Another thing that could help Gurriel is how well he performed in the postseason. Throughout 12 games, la Piña posted a remarkable .347/.360/.490 offensive line with two home runs and four runs batted in. That might be enough for the Astros to trust him for 2023.

However, if they want to go big this year and feel Gurriel’s time in Houston is over, they can go after Abreu. Signing him will require a multi-year deal and probably something around $15-18 million a year. Abreu’s run-producing ability would fit nicely into the Astros’ lineup. In fact, since 2014, the first baseman (863) ranks second in most RBIs in MLB, behind only Nolan Arenado (916).

There are other alternatives, though. Brandon Belt (34), Josh Bell (30), Miguel Sanó (29), Jesús Aguilar (32), and the well-known Trey Mancini (30) are currently in free agency.

If it were my call, I’d try to structure a deal with Abreu with opt-outs, and can even be a two-year deal with an option for a third season plus a buyout. If I’m too far from meeting Abreu’s expectations, I’d get Yuli again for one more year but not before touching base with the other free agents.

Finding a first baseman ranks first among the Astros’ needs entering 2023. We’ll see how owner Jim Crane plays it out.