Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will be a free agent at the end of the Postseason, but what would a new contract for him look like, and should the Arizona Diamondbacks pursue him once he hits the open market?
The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Lourdes Gurriel Jr. last off-season to bolster their outfield. Gurriel was packaged alongside catcher Gabriel Moreno, with the D-Backs surrendering outfielder Daulton Varsho. But Gurriel Jr. only had one year of control and will become a free agent once the Postseason is over. But should the D-Backs bring Gurriel Jr. back into the fold? What will it take to resign the veteran?
In 592 plate appearances, Gurriel batted .261/.309/.463 with a .329 wOBA and 106 wRC+. Gurriel has now posted a wRC+ above 100 in each of his big league seasons. Gurriel has never been one to draw many walks, and his 5.6% walk rate is typical for him. But he’s never struck out very often either, with his 17.4% K% being better than his career average. Gurriel hit 24 home runs, a career high-water mark for him. He also posted a solid .201 isolated slugging percentage, which shows he hit for good pop.
Gurriel had the best year of his career with the glove out in left field, and was very much snubbed of even being a finalist for the Gold Glove. He had +14 defensive runs saved, the second most by any left fielder in baseball. Outs above average wasn’t as bullish on his defensive ability, but +1 OAA was still top five among left fielders. Keep in mind that Gurriel played less than 100 games in left field. He spent 50 games as the D-Backs’ designated hitter.
But Gurriel is a volatile batter. In 2023, he had a 142 wRC+ through April and May. June and July saw him take a massive dip in production, falling to a 45 wRC+. But he’s rebounded to post a 123 wRC+ in August through September. This wouldn’t be the first time Gurriel has experienced drastic month-to-month fluctuations in production, either.
Gurriel may look to get a similar contract to Andrew Benintendi. The last two years of Benintendi’s contract before hitting free agency saw him post a .770 OPS, .335 wOBA, and 113 wRC+. That’s pretty similar to the .758 OPS, .328 wOBA, and 110 wRC+ Gurriel has in 2022-2023. The Chicago White Sox signed Benintendi to a five-year deal worth $75 million, which is an AAV of $15 million a season. Gurriel is coming off a better season defensively than Benintendi in his contract season, however. But in terms of overall fWAR, they’re pretty similar, with Benintendi at +2.8 and Gurriel finishing 2023 off at +2.1.
The only thing is that Gurriel is slightly older. 2024 will be his age-30 campaign, while the first year of Benintendi’s contract was his age-28 campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gurriel received three guaranteed seasons, with a team or player option for another two or three seasons. However, regarding AAV, I see Gurriel making something similar in the $12-$15 million range.
But should the D-Backs pursue another contract with the left fielder? As of right now, the D-Backs have rookie sensation Corbin Caroll in right field with Gold Glove finalist Alek Thomas in center. Even though Thomas has been slacking on the hitting side of the ball since arriving in the big leagues, there’s no doubt he is a great defender. Of course, Carroll can play all four outfield spots, and if the D-Backs really wanted to, they could go after an upgrade over Thomas. Still, as of right now, it looks like this is where these two are penciled in.
After that, it’s a bit of a toss-up internally. Jake McCarthy had a quality rookie season in 2022 but hit a sophomore slump he never really got out of in 2023. Pavin Smith is another player who can handle the outfield corners, but he is more of a non-tender candidate than someone who could potentially take over a regular outfield role. Of course, then there’s Druw Jones, but his first season against pro-level competition did not go great. He managed just a 92 wRC+ while only playing in 41 games. Obviously, you can’t call him a bust because he didn’t come out of the gates red hot, but he’s at least one year away from big-league readiness. I also wouldn’t want the D-Backs to move Ketel Marte back to the outfield grass unless it was an emergency.
Unless the D-Backs decide to go after Cody Bellinger, which, admittedly, would be fun, the rest of the 2023-2024 free-agent class does not hold very many options significantly better than Gurriel Jr. The only one you could make an argument for is Teoscar Hernandez.
In my opinion, I think the D-Backs should pursue Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in free agency. With little on the depth chart as of right now and the best outfield prospect in the system still at least one whole year away, they should go with what is familiar and see if they can land Gurriel Jr. on another contract. It might not be a flashy option, but it is a safe option. You know what you are getting with Gurriel Jr.