The Houston Astros made a major addition on Friday night without having to trade any of their prized prospects. They signed highly touted Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel to a five year 47.5 million dollar deal. The infielder had been highly sought after even though he is 32 years old as of the signing. Most scouts believe he will need only minimal time to get ready and could have an impact on the pennant race as soon as mid August.
Why the Astros make this deal
It has been no secret that the Astros have been in search of consistent offensive performance. When you remove the 3.5 million salary for this truncated season, you have a four year 44 million deal for a player that could potentially perform like an all-star. Cuban defectees have had a fairly good track record with a couple of notable exceptions, so the Astros felt fairly confident in taking the gamble. A quick look below shows where Gourriel is in relation to the latest group of high profile Cuban professionals.
What’s great about this list is that all of these players (minus Gourriel of course) have played some in the big leagues. Castillo experienced some success last season with Boston, but has only played two games in the big leagues this season. He’s also struggling in the minors this season, so he likely will not see any time up in Boston this season. That being said, his numbers above are clearly towards the bottom of the group.
Yasmany Tomas also did not have quite the success of the others in Cuba, but he is quietly enjoying a nice season in Arizona. He has a .740 OPS and 13 home runs at the all-star break. As everyone knows, Abreu and Cespedes are performing like superstars over the last few seasons. In some respects, Gourriel had superior numbers to them. He was the only one to have a higher walk rate than strikeout rate.
This point can’t be ignored as the Astros are second (or 29th) in strikeouts this season with only the Milwaukee Brewers having more. The Tampa Bay Rays are 14th in the American league and they are in last place. The Astros are third in walks behind the Blue Jays and Cubs, but contact has been a consistent issue since the decision scientists took over back in the bad old days. I’m sure Gourriel’s penchant for making contact wasn’t lost on them.
What this deal means for you
Unfortunately, Guerriel has not played competitively since last season. This is main reason why the Astros structured the deal like they did. He will have to go down to the minors (or extended Spring Training) for at least three weeks to get ready. So, if you rush out and pick him off the waiver wire today you could be disappointed. That being said, some leagues have disabled list slots and “not active” slots. If your league has one of those he might be a good addition at a low cost.
The biggest problem comes in forecasting actual performance. You could aim for the midpoint between Tomas, Abreu, and Cespedes (in terms when they first arrived). That would put him in the neighborhood of a .750 to .800 OPS. Given where the Astros have been at first base this season, they would be thrilled. You might be too depending on your team’s needs.