News broke earlier this week that legendary Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gourriel would be defecting to the United States. Gourriel was widely considered as the best player still in Cuba and will be a sought-after commodity among major league teams once eligible for free agency.
Gourriel has Bonds-esque Cuban league stats– a lifetime slash line of .333/.414/.577 with 245 home runs and 999 RBI in 899 games. This includes a 62-game stint in the Japanese league, where he batted .305/.349/.536 in 2014. Gourriel has a reputation akin to royalty in Red Cuba, and will eventually receive a king-size check from a team in America.
If possible, the Diamondbacks should make a real push for Gourriel. He is a perfect fit for this team at third base in the coming years and would do volumes in pushing the team towards the world championship they so desperately desire.
Because of MLB red tape, Gourriel may not be able to sign with a team until 2017. This should still be fine by the Diamondbacks, who realistically only until 2018 to contend for a championship. After that season, A.J. Pollock, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin will all be free agents and Zack Greinke will be 35.
The good thing about Gourriel from a team perspective is that he may not command a six or seven-year contract. He will be turning 32 in June, so he is much older than any past notable Cuban player at the time of defection*. The only person who comes close is the Braves’ Hector Olivera, who received six years and $62.5 million as a 30-year-old last year. So while Gourriel will likely garner a salary upwards of $10 million annually in the major leagues, it is unclear what kind of long-term commitment will be available for a 32-year-old with no major league experience. Baseball players’ prime years generally take place between the age-28 and age-32 season, so this risk could lead to a more team-friendly deal.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler said that Gourriel has a similar skill set to David Wright and Hanley Ramirez. If the Diamondbacks can sign someone of this caliber without having to make a long-term commitment, there is no reason why they shouldn’t do it. If you could sign David Wright or Hanley Ramirez on just a four-year contract you would probably do it, right? Even if the Diamondbacks do not win a title by 2018, there would still be two years of team control left, and trading Gourriel could bring back a solid return.
The New York Post has reported that the Yankees have their eyes on Gourriel. There is reportedly mutual interest between both parties, so it may be difficult for a smaller market like Arizona to recruit him. But if he is available at the right price– maybe four or five years at $60 million– the Diamondbacks would be well-suited in signing him.
*Depending on how old Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez really was.