Saturday, July 16, 2016

Thoughts on the Yulieski Gurriel signing

Yesterday the Astros dropped a bombshell on baseball when's Jesse Sanchez broke that Houston had signed 32-year old Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel to a 5yr/$47.5m contract.

What We Know

*We know that during the 2015 Cuban season, Gurriel actually hit .500 with 15 home runs with 38 walks, three strikeouts, and three stolen bases. He has been described as a "more fluid Jeff Kent."

*Gurriel has represented Cuba at all three World Baseball Classics, and won championships with Cuba at the Pan Am Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup, and Caribbean Series. 

What We Think We Know

*Gurriel is projected to need 50 or 60 ABs in the minors before joining the Astros, presumably in early August. If Gurriel joins, say, Fresno on Monday he could be in the lineup at Round Rock. Wouldn't that be fun? Would you not make that trip? I would. My bet, though, is that he spends a week or so at Corpus before going to Fresno. 

*He will play 3B. He can apparently play 2B and SS, but that's not going to happen because of Altuve and Correa, respectively.

So This Impacts Whom(e)?

1) The first person this immediately impacts is Luis Valbuena. It would appear that Valbuena's days at 3B are over starting whenever Gurriel comes up. As of right now the Astros have gotten a .245/.331/.419 line out of 3B for a 0.9 fWAR. Yes, that includes Valbuena's ridiculous last 10 weeks (highlighting how terrible his first few weeks actually were). Valbuena is at a 1.4 fWAR, sabotaged by Danny Worth and Matt Duffy's -0.1 fWAR and Colin Moran's -0.3 fWAR. Worth, Duffy, and Moran - in 55 collective PAs - were worth -0.5 fWAR.

So the Astros can shift Valbuena to 1B where the Astros have a -0.3 fWAR at the position. How is that possible?! you ask. Well, Marwin's 87 wRC+ is good enough for a 0.2 fWAR. A.J. Reed's 48 wRC+ and Tyler White's 81 wRC+ has combined for a -0.5 fWAR.

IF! the Astros are intent on keeping Valbuena - and there's really reason not to, for the time being - and IF! Valbuena's 144 wRC+ since May 4 is indicative of a massive overhaul into a player he has, to this point in his lengthy career, never shown, his bat would play at 1B in a massive way.

A.J. Reed can continue to develop. We need to stop looking at getting sent to Triple-A as though it's the death knell of a career.

OR. You trade Valbuena when his value is as high as it will ever be, and platoon Reed vs RHP (.857 OPS in 2016) and Marwin vs LHP (career .702 OPS, .736 OPS in 2016).

2) The second person this immediately impacts is Alex Bregman. Jim Ralph Bowden speculated that he'd already be up in Houston by now. So this likely pushes his timetable back a little bit, at least until September. Bregman is six months older than Carlos Correa and isn't on the 40-Man roster. Yulieski Gurriel is 32. Gurriel's 5yr/$47.5m will end by the time Bregman hits his 3rd year of arbitration. Alex Bregman will be fine. There is no reason to trade him. The Astros, apparently, agree.

Listen to me carefully: If the Astros hold off on Bregman until, let's say, Spring Training 2017, give him 4-6 weeks and the offseason to play LF (a position, at which he has some experience) then it gives the Astros the flexibility to let Rasmus go. It pains me to even type that out. But since May 1 Rasmus has put up a .237/.292/.333 line. He has hit four home runs in the last ten weeks. It's a 67 wRC+, and that isn't good enough. We all know how he can go all Truck Nutz/No Fear/Ain't Skeered on baseball for a few weeks. And maybe his Clubhouse Presence can overcome that. These things are not for us to know. The Astros can ride this out for the remainder of the season and see what happens.

If the Astros let Rasmus walk at the end of the season (or before), keep in mind that Carlos Gomez is a free agent at the end of the season, as well. The middle/left 2/3 of the outfield has been poor, collectively. So if Bregman can defensively pick up LF...then the Astros could possibly upgrade three positions with one signing. Because it wouldn't take much of a bat to upgrade the outfield not named Springer.

3) This definitely impacts the not-yet-24-year old Colin Moran. In 287 career minor-league games (defensively-speaking) Moran has played 286 at 3B. He played in one game at SS this season for Fresno. Moran has ostensibly been jumped by Bregman and Gurriel. They are younger and far more expensive, respectively. Now he has a career .295/.355/.418 line - and that includes his .255 OPS in 20 PAs in Houston. I literally have no idea what this means for Moran. Twenty plate appearances is a ridiculously small sample size, not enough to judge a major-league career. Yeah you have to take advantage of the opportunities presented, but come on. Twenty plate appearances is five starts in a 162-game season. Maybe. Will some team call the Astros to check on a young 3B who has hit .266/.345/.509 as a 23-year old in his first go-around at Triple-A. Or they won't, and the Astros have an insurance policy. Whatever.

4) It impacts Yulieski Gurriel's younger brother, 22-year old Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. In 305 games noted by Baseball-Reference, Gurriel has a career .277/.362/.426 line in 305 Cuban league games. That said, he had an .854 OPS in 2014 (.308/.388/.466) and in 59 games for Industriales hit .344/.407/.560 with 17 doubles, 10 homers, 23K:21BB in 2016. Perhaps the Astros view the signing of Yulieski as a gateway drug to also signing his brother Lourdes.

Lourdes Gurriel is also a free agent, defecting from Cuba at the same time Yulieski and hiring the same representation. As MLBTR notes, if Lourdes Gurriel signs after his 23rd birthday, which happens to be October 19, he would not be constrained by international spending limits - which the Astros blew past this summer. Signing Lourdes Gurriel before October would result in Red Soxian penalties. That said, if Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel want to play together so badly, Lourdes can wait until October, collect his check, and join the Astros system.

At the press conference to introduce Yulieski Gurriel, he said:
It'd be great for my brother to be here so I wouldn't have to do this alone. I know that my brother has extraordinary talent and I'd love to have him here. 

The Gurriel Brothers' agent - Adam Katz - said it's a longer process:
(Lourdes) needs to get cleared by MLB so he can be part of this process. Then, we hope to showcase him in mid-August, late-August when he's ready. We'll showcase him and then he should be ready to go maybe in October. 

Hey whaddayaknow, that's when the Astros could sign him without being subject to the international spending limits. The Astros have already said that they'd be fighting to get Gurriel The Younger. If signing Yulieski for $47.5m brings about Lourdes for (a far higher amount) then the Yulieski signing brings about two of the highest-rated international prospects of the last couple of years. And for nothing but money, and with no penalty for future signings.

5) It should impact Astros fans' collective perception of Jim Crane/ownership. After falling short on Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu, many fans thought that the Astros made enough of an offer to get some press but not enough to be serious about actually landing said player. I wrote at the time of Abreu's signing that offering that much money when you're not really serious is a pretty damn risky gamble. It's akin to bidding on the sailboat at the Junior League's Winter Gala just to impress yo girl when you can't actually afford it. What if you win? I've maintained for almost four years now that the Astros had a hard and fast valuation system for guys like Abreu and Tanaka. The Astros are in a different place than they were from 2012-2014. They have gone for it and picked off the prized Cuban player on the market. They made what seems to be a major upgrade/pickup for 2016-2020, and it didn't cost them a single prospect. 2015 marked a turning point for the franchise, so stop comparing their approach up to 2015.

6) It impacts the 2016 Ramgers. You just know those sin-baked heathens (sic) up in South Oklahoma are going to prepare for another October run, like they did with Mr. White Privilege Cole Hamels last year. Their bullpen is terrible, and everyone knows it. Yu Darvish looked good today, but they have issues in the rotation, as well, thanks to injuries. They have a strong farm system, and my unscientific polling of morally bankrupt Ramger fans is that they're far more willing for their front office to trade from depth than Astros fans might be. I've already made clear my madness - Prospect Attachment Syndrome - so I'm looking in the mirror here. But at some point the future has to be now and you have to proverbially defecate or get off of the proverbial toilet.

No team has been disappointed because they had too many good players. Trust your player development and coaches to figure it out and win some games. It's happening. This is a step forward for the Astros.