Latest On Yuli Gurriel’s Free Agency

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Yuli Gurriel is one of the more accomplished free agent hitters still available, though he’s seeking a bounceback opportunity after a rough 2022 campaign. It seemed things were moving towards a resolution a couple weeks ago when reports suggested his camp was making progress in talks with the Marlins. However, Miami eventually pulled back that pursuit.

That has left the 38-year-old without a publicly defined market. The only other teams tied to Gurriel this offseason are the Twins and the incumbent Astros, with whom the Cuban infielder spent his first seven big league seasons. Jon Heyman of the New York Post wrote yesterday Gurriel had sought a guarantee in the $3MM range at one point this offseason. Whether that’s still his goal is unclear, though the Post reports he declined multiple contract offers that were apparently below his asking price.

Heyman adds Houston manager Dusty Baker would like for Gurriel to return, though it’s not clear if there’s a fit on the roster given the team’s early-offseason pickup of José Abreu. Houston has Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley to split time between designated hitter and left field. Any path to playing time on the Astros roster would be as a right-handed bench bat. Houston already has a pair of right-handed infielders — Mauricio Dubón and David Hensley — who could crack the roster while offering more defensive flexibility.

Gurriel has some previous MLB experience at second and third base but has played almost exclusively first base since the start of the 2020 campaign. That’s at least in part because Houston has Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman entrenched at those other infield spots. Gurriel garnered solid marks from public defensive metrics for his intermittent third base work between 2016-19 and was a Gold Glove winning first baseman as recently as 2021. His defensive marks at first base cratered last season, though, which could give teams pause about his ability to handle any more demanding positions as he enters his age-39 season.

His offense is something of a question mark as well. Gurriel is coming off a .242/.288/.360 line with just eight home runs through 584 regular season plate appearances. He finished the year with an excellent 12-game playoff run (.347/.360/.490) before a World Series-ending MCL sprain in his right knee. On the one hand, it was Gurriel’s second well below-average offensive showing in the past three years, as he managed just a .232/.274/.384 showing during the shortened 2020 schedule. Yet his intervening season was brilliant, as he posted a .319/.383/.462 mark in 143 games in 2021, securing an American League batting title.

Gurriel still has excellent bat-to-ball skills. Last year’s 12.5% strikeout rate was a personal high but checked in roughly ten percentage points below the league average. Even with a below-average slash line, he collected 40 doubles for the third time in his career. Still, the 2022 season also represented the first time he failed to reach double-digit homers in a full season, and his on-base percentage was fifth-lowest among 36 first basemen with 400+ plate appearances.

There are a few remaining rebound targets available at the position in free agency. Longtime Twin slugger Miguel Sanó will hold a showcase for scouts next week, while 2020 home run leader Luke Voit is unsigned after being non-tendered by the Nationals. Gurriel brings a far different approach than those high-strikeout sluggers, though Sanó and Voit are far younger.

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