Cuban INF Yulieski Gourriel Available For Hire

According to MLB.com, Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel has been cleared to become a free agent and could sign with a team as early as this season. The 32-year-old has primarily played third base over his career (13 in the CNS and two in the JPL). He has also played at second base and short stop.

Gourriel has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave Cuba with permission of the Cuban government. He and his younger brother Lourdes (22-years-old) left Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following its Caribbean Series back in February of this year in search of MLB contracts (per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com).

Gourriel is regarded as the best baseball player in Cuba and it’s easy to see why when you look at his numbers.

Last year with the Industriales, Gourriel slashed a ridiculous .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in just 49 games. Throughout his professional career Gourriel has a slash line of .335/.417/.580 with 1,585 hits, 250 HR, 1,018 RBI, and 611 BB.

Given that Gourriel is considered by many to be Major League-ready right now, I thought I would provide a look at one team from each division who could potentially sign him.

 

National League East: New York Mets

According to ESPN, the Mets may pursue Gourriel aggressively (and understandably so).

With perennial third baseman David Wright likely sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a herniated disk, the Mets could use someone with Gourriel’s experience who’s ready to make an impact.

Gourriel would also have a clubhouse friend in countryman Yoenis Cespedes, so this would seem like a match made in heaven on paper for both sides.

 

National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

Sitting at third place in the NL Central and two-and-a-half games back for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, the Bucs could use a potential offensive boost and change of pace in their infield.

Currently Pittsburgh is comfortable at third base with David Freese and Jung Ho Kang. They also seem comfortable at second base with Josh Harrison, but Gourriel could possibly platoon at short stop with Jordy Mercer.

If nothing else, Gourriel would be welcomed infield depth and could add some needed pop into the Pirates’ lineup.

 

National League West: San Francisco Giants

I’ll admit, the Gigantes are a bit of a stretch here when you consider their more than serviceable starting infield comprised of Matt Duffy (3B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Joe Panik (2B), and Brandon Belt (1B).

However, it wouldn’t hurt to have Gourriel behind any of those guys or allowing them to rest come the dog days of August.

With Hunter Pence possibly out of the everyday lineup until after the All-Star break with a torn hamstring, San-Fran could use a batter of Gourriel’s caliber.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

 

 

American League East: Baltimore Orioles

The O’s aren’t exactly in dire need for an infielder either (see Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Jonathon Schoop, and JJ Hardy).

Nevertheless, with JJ Hardy still out and rehabbing a fractured left foot and the flexibility of the DH position, Baltimore could use Gourriel as infield depth in a platoon with Alvarez. The O’s could also put him at the hot corner over current starter Ryan Flaherty (while Machado covers at SS in Hardy’s absence).

As you can see, Baltimore would have options by signing Gourriel. And when you are trying to stay atop the AL East, having options is quite the luxury.

 

American League Central: Cleveland Indians

The Tribe, in my opinion, is the AL team who would benefit most by signing Gourriel now. Cleveland currently has a solid middle-infield with short stop sensation Francisco Lindor and veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis. However, the corners of their infield are getting a bit old (Mike Napoli, 34) and worn out (Juan Uribe, 37).

At 32 with 15 seasons under his belt, Gourriel isn’t young either but would seem more serviceable than Uribe at third. Though the Indians do have another promising young talent in Jose Ramirez (currently starting in left field but a third baseman by trade), the addition of Gourriel would give the Tribe more flexibility.

Cleveland is on top of the AL Central by a thin margin and Gourriel could offer assistance in helping distance that lead (you’re probably sensing an AL pattern by now).

 

American League West: Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been red hot lately and have a seven-and-a-half game first place lead in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners. A large part of that success stems from one of the more crowded infields in the majors (see Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar).

However, they could make room for Gourriel at first base by rotating with Mitch Moreland.

At the very least, Gourriel could share DH responsibilities with Prince Fielder while also acting as infield insurance.

 

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

 

Final Thoughts:

While I feel the Mets or Indians will make the most aggressive run at Gourriel, you never know who might throw their hat in the ring.

This development will be one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It would be surprising not to see Gourriel on a Major League roster by the All-Star break.

Looking Ahead: 2018 MLB Free Agents

Picture this…

It’s the winter of 2018. A few months earlier, the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 110 years by defeating the Houston Astros (hey it could happen). After jubilant Cubs fans everywhere calm themselves from a long overdue celebration, Chicago and the other 29 MLB teams turn their attention to the off-season.

The Free agency pool looks like the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team”. It features a host of all-stars, gold glovers, silver sluggers, Cy Young and MVP award winners. One major leaguer from this group will become baseballs first half-a-billion dollar man, others will strike deals that far surpass previous contract figures at their respective positions.

Reality Check

Ok, so the bit about the Cubs winning the World Series was purely for fun (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility), however, the rest could actually happen in 2018.

In what promises to be one of the best free agent classes we’ve seen in a long time, the 2018 off-season will be nothing short of astounding. Below are just some of the top names that could be available for hire:

Starting Pitchers

David Price*

Clayton Kershaw*

Matt Harvey

Jose Fernandez

Shelby Miller

Dallas Kuechel

Garrett Richards

Jose Quintana

Jake Arrieta

Closers/Relievers

Craig Kimbrel

Wade Davis

Trevor Rosenthal

Andrew Miller

Luke Gregerson

Jake McGee

Steve Cishek (pending he hasn’t completely combusted by 2018)

Infielders

Josh Donaldson

Manny Machado

Dee Gordon

Eric Hosmer

Mike Moustakas

Jose Iglesias

Outfielders

Bryce Harper

Andrew McCutchen

Jason Heyward*

Michael Brantley

Adam Jones

Lorenzo Cain

A.J. Pollock

(* indicates players who can opt-out of their current contracts in 2018)

Depending upon who ends up where, there could be a tremendous shift of power in both the American and National League. Of, course there are still three seasons to be played between now and the winter of 2018.

This means a number of the individuals listed above could very well be re-signed by way of contract extensions, or stick out their current contracts. Also, a few of these players could decline significantly in performance, suffer career altering injuries, or even become part of a blockbuster trade before 2018 arrives.

Nevertheless, the level of talent available by then will still be plentiful. While it’s difficult to say where these and other free agents will wind up, I will take a shot at projecting where four of the above free agents might land in 2018.

 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

Fantastic Four

 

1. Bryce Harper (NYY,WSH,LAD)

Harper will be the most coveted free agent prize in 2018 for a plethora of reasons. At 27-years-old, he’ll be in his prime as a player and will likely command a record setting contract. Per ESPN.com, the gifted outfielder was interviewed recently by 106.7 FM The Fan, and was asked about his thoughts regarding his next contract possibly exceeding the $400 million mark, to which Harper replied

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t really think about that stuff” Harper said. “I just try to play the years out and do everything I can to help my team win. But don’t sell  me short. That’s what you’re doing right now to me, so don’t do that.”(quote per 106.7 FM The Fan interview)

Given that Harper himself expects a big payday, there are only a few teams I feel that can cash his potentially historic check. It’s no secret, or surprise, that the New York Yankees (notorious for big off-season spending sprees) are a likely destination for Harper in 2018.

Many MLB experts believe the Bronx Bombers have been inactive in the off-season recently, in order to cash in on the likes of Harper and others once 2018 arrives.

While there could be some risk involved with the Yankees playing the waiting game, being able to unload hefty contracts such as Alex Rodriguez (free agent in 2018, C.C. Sabathia (free agent in 2018), and Mark Teixeira’ (free agent in 2017) will allow New York to spend freely in the 2018 Free Agency.

Imagine a NYY outfield composed of Bryce Harper, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a still effective Brett Gardner entering the 2019 season. Harper’s home run power coupled with the hitter friendly dimensions of the New Yankee Stadium would be a match made in heaven for New York.

Furthermore, it would be fitting for the Yanks to yet again break the contract record books (as they did with A-Rod before, 10 years at $275 million) by signing Harper to say a 12-year $450 million deal.

Of course, just because the Yankees will have money to spend in 2018, doesn’t mean everyone else is out of the running for Bryce Harper. His current team, the Washington Nationals, could go all-in and up the contract ante to a whopping 15-year $500 million mega deal.

Then again, they could structure the deal to guarantee “x amount” of dollars in a 10-year $400 million deal ($40 million annually) that might appeal more to Harper.

The Nats, however, may not be able to best New York in a bidding war in 2018. Over the next three seasons they will have other key players looking to cash in for their time and services to the team (Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, etc).

Meaning, even if they manage to keep some of those players around by 2018, there simply may not be enough money in the bank to convince number 34 to stay in D.C.

Finally, another big market team (like the Yanks) that could potentially court Harper…the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA hasn’t been shy in seasons past when it comes to spending big money on top talent, though they have yet to see the desired results from said investments. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say the Dodgers pursuing Harper would surprise no one, and is highly probable.

Imagine for a second a Dodgers outfield consisting of Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Harper. This would give LA one of the scariest 3-4-and-5 hitter combinations in the league, for years to come. Combine that offensive output with a Clayton Kershaw led pitching staff, and the Dodgers would be heavily favored champions entering the 2019 season.

 

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

 

2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD,ATL,PHI)

Speaking of Kershaw, and as previously mentioned in this post, he could very well opt-out of his current contract and seek an even bigger pay-day in 2018. While I think Kershaw will ultimately stay with LA, it is becoming more commonplace to see players using the opt-out clause of their contracts to seek larger contracts elsewhere, rather than stay with a franchise for their career.

Kershaw has been with the Dodgers since 2008, which would bring his tenure with the team to a decade in 2018. By todays standards, that’s a long time playing in one uniform. Given the post-season struggles LA has faced in Kershaw’ time out west, he very well could be ready for a change of scenery.

For the sake of this post at least, lets pretend Kershaw tires of being on the hill in Hollywood and opts out of his contract. One of the teams who I feel will be interested, is the Atlanta Braves. While they may not look like much entering the 2016 season, the Braves can certainly turn things around in 2018 by adding some top tier pitching and other pieces to go along with franchise player and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Should Kershaw become available, Atlanta would likely try and persuade the three time Cy Young award winner to come to tomahawk chop country. As far as being able to afford Kershaw or outbid the Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks signing of Zack Greinke in 2016 is proof that a deal can always be made.

Lastly, and this team comes in as a total dark-horse for Kershaw, the Philadelphia Phillies could shock the baseball world and strike a deal. The Phillies would not only have the salary cap space to sign Kershaw, but could also add another top-tier free agent like a Josh Donaldson, or Jason Heyward (should he also opt-out). This is because in 2018, the Phils have virtually no money going towards major contractual commitments (per MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince).

Again, Philly may be a bit of a stretch, but like Atlanta, they’ll be rebuilding over the next few seasons. No better way to do so, than going after one of the best arms on the open market.

 

3. Josh Donaldson (TOR,BOS,NYM)

The reigning AL’s most valued player could bring in another MVP award between now and 2018, and will likely convince Toronto to keep him in Canada. The Blue Jays have certainly shown the other large market teams of the AL East that they too can splurge of talent. Of course, like the Dodgers, those dollars spent haven’t yet translated into gold rings.

Nevertheless, Toronto should be in a good position by 2018 to not only keep their multi-talented third baseman, but also compete for a championship. The Jays, will not be alone, however, in trying to talk money with the “Bringer of Rain”.

Another team that may be in need of Donaldson’ services could be the division rival Boston Red Sox. Sure the Sox have current third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval under contract until the year 2021. But, considering that the Panda hasn’t exactly panned out the way Boston originally hoped, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox trade Sandoval away before the 2018 free agency, thus allowing the pursuit of Donaldson.

Of course, by trading Pablo away, the Bo Sox would have to eat a chunk of his contract. Throw in possibly having to re-bid or restructure a contract for David Price (should he opt-out in 2018) and the Sox might think twice about splurging the way they did back in 2011 (and we all know how that worked out, see 2012 Sox Collapse).

One last possible destination for Donaldson, could be the revamped New York Mets. Seeing as David Wright (who will turn 36 in 2018) could possibly hang up his cleats after an illustrious 14-year MLB career by 2018, Donaldson’ availability could be perfect timing for the Mets. Add Donaldson to an already potent lineup, with a rising, young,  and talented pitching rotation, and the Mets have a championship caliber team for years to come.

 

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

 

4. Dallas Kuechel (HOU,TEX,PHI)

Last but certainly not least on my brief list of possible 2018 free agents is Dallas Kuechel, currently with the Houston Astros. While Houston standouts such as second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder George Springer, and short stop Carlos Correa all sound like future Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals members, Kuechel may be one guy that the Astros can hang onto for a while.

Granted those other Astros listed above won’t hit the free agency until a few season after 2018, so Houston may still be able to keep a solid core together out West. If Keuchel plays his cards right, he could command a high dollar contract that rivals other top arms in this class. Whether or not Houston will be willing or able to pay up to keep their ace, will depend on who else throws their hat into ring for the talented lefty.

The in-state and AL West rival Texas Rangers could be one team that challenges Houston for Kuechel’s arm. The Rangers will still have the majority of their current 2016 pitching staff under contract through 2019 and beyond (Yu Darvish 2019, Derek Holland 2019, Cole Hamels 2020, Martin Perez 2021). When you add Dallas Kuechel to the mix, Texas’ rotation could rival other top staffs around the majors.

While multiple other teams could be in need of this lefties pitching power, I feel like no other team will need a left hander to build a team around more than Philadelphia. As previously mentioned about the Phillies in this post, the team will have the capital needed to bring in talent.

Quick Question: What if the Phils pulled off a major off-season sweep and sign Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and say Manny Machado?

Answer: That would be a great start to rebuilding a franchise that has suffered multiple sub .500 seasons since 2012.

(All contractual information and statistics for this post is courtesy of http://spotrac.com )

 

Final Thoughts:

While the majority of this post is pure speculation, a good number of these players will become free agents in 2018. Contracts will no doubt reach all-time highs, and depending upon how the upcoming collective bargaining agreement goes, teams will likely crush 2016′ $2 billion spending spree by a significant margin.

It will be a class to remember, and could be an off-season that leaves a decade long impact on the majors. Until then, we can only watch, wait, and wonder.