Back in February, infielder Yulieski Gurriel and his younger brother Lourdes Jr. defected from Cuba while in the Dominican Republic for the Caribbean Series. Along with Japanese righty Shohei Otani, the Gurriels are widely considered two of the best players in the world not under contract with an MLB team.
The Gurriels are still going through the process of being declared free agents by MLB, and that can take an awfully long time. They have to first establish residency outside Cuba, then get cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and then be given the thumbs up by MLB. That process can take months and months.
Aroldis Chapman, who played with Yulieski on the Cuban National Team back in the today, recently told Brendan Kuty that Gurriel would be “super happy” to play for the Yankees. Yulieski has said in the past his favorite player in Alex Rodriguez, which is pretty cool. Here’s what Chapman told Kuty:
“He has asked me many questions,” Chapman said. “But that’s normal because, Cuban people, they always want to ask you how’s the baseball at this level, what’s the organization and all that. It’s typical for Cuban people to ask questions about the Yankees.”
“He was a good teammate,” Chapman said. “Besides being a good player, he’s a good person. He would share moments with us. He would hang out outside of baseball and he was just a good teammate.”
The two Gurriels are at very different points in their career. Yulieki, the older brother, will turn 32 in three weeks and is ready to jump right into a big league lineup. He’s been a star in Cuba for more than a decade — the Cuban government allowed him to play in Japan in 2014, and he raked there too — and most believe Gurriel could be an impact hitter in MLB right now.
Lourdes is only 22, however. His career is just getting started. In fact, once he is declared a free agent, he will still be subject to the international spending rules. He’s not going to sign this summer though. Lourdes will wait until he turns 23 in October so he will be exempt from the spending restrictions and free to sign a contract of any size. Waiting a few extra weeks means millions and millions more.
The Yankees haven’t been connected to the Gurriels at all, but no team has at this point, so that doesn’t mean much. Every team has a place in their organization for Lourdes given his age and what is considered high-end upside on the middle infield. Yulieski is a bit trickier because he’s a second and third baseman who is MLB ready. The Yankees are contractually locked into Starlin Castro at second and Chase Headley at third.
Castro has been more than fine in his first few weeks as a Yankee. Headley has been mostly awful despite his recent extra-base hits. I’ve been wondering if the Yankees will move Headley in an A.J. Burnett style salary dump after the season even though they lack a ready made replacement. (Sorry, I’m not buying Rob Refsnyder at third.) Dumping Headley would clear a spot for Yulieski.
Of course, it’s all going to come down to money. Hector Olivera signed six-year deal worth $62.5M with the Dodgers last year. He was 30 and two years younger than Yulieski, but also a much inferior player with a much scarier injury history. It’s not unreasonable to think Gurriel will command more. Lourdes is tougher to pin down. Yasmany Tomas got six years and $68.5M at age 24 a year ago.
I wonder if Lourdes, who is expected to need time in the minors, will end up getting offers like the deal Jorge Soler signed with the Cubs years ago. Soler received a nine-year deal worth $30M at age 20 — this was before the spending restrictions became a thing — though the contract allows him to void his salaries and opt into arbitration. So if he becomes a star, Soler has the ability to go through arbitration to make more money.
Perhaps the younger Gurriel brother will go for something like eight years and $40M with a similar arbitration opt-in clause. Chances are he will take the largest guarantee offered, so if someone puts Tomas money on the table, they’ll probably get him. But if not, a structure like Soler’s could work. And yes, such a deal would count against the luxury tax. That’s not insignificant for the Yankees and Hal Steinbrenner even with all the money they have coming off the books the next two years.
The idea of a package deal is very intriguing and I feel like a rebuilding team like the Braves or Phillies should be all over the Gurriels. It’s a great opportunity to get two talented players. It really seems like Yulieski wants to play for the Yankees though, so maybe that gives New York an edge come free agency time. Remember though, A-Rod will be gone after next season and chances are Chapman will be gone after this season. Gurriel may not be too keen on coming to the Yankees if his favorite player and long-time friend won’t be around for the long haul.