Cuban 3B Yulieski Gurriel free to sign, Dodgers interested

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the Dodgers needing an offensive upgrade. Outside of Jonathan Lucroy, there weren’t a whole lot of options that made sense for the Dodgers (at least then or now). Well, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com might have the answer.

Hello. Yulieski Gurriel is one of the best hitters to ever play baseball in Cuba. And this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about him on this leading baseball blog. Daniel wrote about Yulieksi and his brother Lourdes Gurriel back in February. For the purposes of this post, let’s look at what he wrote about the elder Gurriel.

“Yulieski Gurriel is nothing short of a star. He has long been seen as the best player in Cuba, often drawing comparisons to Adrian Beltre. Baseball America has also compared him to David Wright and Hanley Ramirez. Basically, he’s good. Really good. Those comparisons should turn heads, even if he’s already 31.

Yulieski has big power: he has hit 245 homers in parts of 15 seasons in Cuba, and hit 14 during a short stint in Japan.

(sic)

… Yulieski was hitting an eye-popping .494/.586/.861 in his first 215 plate appearances in the Serie Nacional this year. In the first 106 plate appearances of that season, he had 15 walks and one strikeout. He has hit for an overall .333/.414/.577 line in Cuba (keep in mind that these stats date back to when he was 17). He doesn’t walk much, but the power and above-average contact skills make up for it. Against more advanced competition in Japan, Gurriel hit .305/.349/.536 for the Yokohama BayStars in 258 plate appearances. All of that, and he plays good defense at third base? Yes please.”

Yes please, indeed. Daniel also touched on Gurriel’s potential makeup concerns when Yulieski didn’t report to the BayStars after he was re-signed last year. But that’s a very minor concern at this rate.

Here’s the last bit from Daniel’s post:

“Yulieski Gurriel should be in line for a pretty sizable payday, once he’s allowed to become a free agent by MLB. The $62.5MM contract that the Dodgers signed with Hector Olivera is probably a good comparison. Olivera was about two years younger than Gurriel when he signed, but Yulieski is also a much safer bet. He’s a better player and doesn’t have the same long injury-prone history as the former Dodger. The bat is legitimate, and he’ll get rewarded for it.

It’s pretty easy to envision an scenario in which the Dodgers are major players for the elder Gurriel. It will likely take some months for him to be cleared to sign with an MLB team (and he will not be subject to MLB’s international bonus pools). By that time, perhaps later into this season, Justin Turner‘s impending free agency will be looming. The best MLB free agent at third base next year, other than Turner and Adrian Beltre (who likely won’t hit the free market), is Luis Valbuena. Gurriel has a chance to have a significantly higher impact than that, and he’s the type of talent which teams need to make room for.”

The Olivera deal, sans the funny business with the elbow, is an apt comparison. Perhaps the Dodgers give him more in average annual value and fewer than six years because he’s already 32 years old. That might work for Gurriel. Maybe 4-5 years at $60-70 million would make some sense. It might also give the Dodgers a leg up in trying to sign Lourdes, who is not yet free to sign with a team. Speculation is that he’s going to wait until October because he turns 23 on the 19th and would be free of international signing restrictions. He’ll likely be cleared before then, but it would behoove him to wait. And if the Dodgers sign Yulieski and Lourdes wants to sign where his brother goes, then waiting is the only way for that to happen (unless Lourdes signs for $300,000, which isn’t going to happen). Not only that, but locking up Yulieksi would give the Dodgers their third baseman for the immediate future — something that isn’t so clear at present.

Also, this isn’t just a “Dodgers have all the money, sign all the players” thing, either.

The Dodgers desperately need an offensive upgrade. Third base is the logical spot because of Turner’s massive struggles this season. Dodger third baseman on the whole have an 83 wRC+ — 4th-worst in baseball. Their .121 ISO is 6th-worst in baseball. Defensively, they are 5th-best. I’m not sure Gurriel makes that any better, but if he’s as good as advertised, he’d definitely improve those offensive numbers.

I wrote about Turner’s power outage a few weeks ago.

“There weren’t any warning signs in spring training, either. Despite Turner getting a late start, he lit up the Cactus League (.500/.571/1.000). But that’s beside the point since spring training stats are virtually worthless, but it was the way he looked while posting those numbers. He was making hard contact, he was punishing mistakes and good pitches, and most importantly, he looked healthy doing so.

Turner isn’t the only Dodger struggling to hit, but his struggle has been felt throughout the lineup. Turner had entrenched himself in the No. 3/4 spot in the lineup, but he just hasn’t produced enough to justify hitting that high in the lineup. Perhaps he’ll get going after a couple home runs (his only hits) in Petco Park. If not, he might need to be dropped in the lineup. There isn’t really a viable replacement/platoon partner on the roster or in the minors, so the Dodgers really need Turner to figure things out.”

Or, the Dodgers need to sign Gurriel and push Turner to a utility role. Having Turner in that role would reduce his playing time, as he has started 81.1 percent of the Dodgers’ games at third base (compared to 54.3 percent last year and 27.8 percent in 2014). Coming off microfracture knee surgery (and Turner claims his knee has never felt better), it’d be ideal for him to get more rest. Maybe that’s impacting his production, or maybe his timing is off (and has been for 2-plus months). Whatever the reason for his struggles, getting a break and having some pressure taken off Turner might help Turner be a more effective player, because playing every day isn’t helping him or the team.

Best-case scenario is Gurriel signs sometime in the next few weeks, goes out on a minor-league assignment since he hasn’t played organized ball in a year and is ready for the majors in August — you know, right around the trading deadline. He might be the best and most logical offensive upgrade the Dodgers can acquire before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

This should be a daily tweet until he’s a Dodger.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.