Yulieski Gourriel is regarded as the best player in the world who is not playing in Major League Baseball. All of that is about to change with Yulieski and his younger brother Lourdes defecting from Cuba a couple of weeks ago. Lourdes is considered the best young prospect in baseball that is not in a big league farm system. Lourdes is subject to international signing guidelines, but due to his professional experience Yulieski is not. Both brothers have openly communicated a desire to sign with the same organization, but with the amount of money each brother will command those expectations may be unrealistic. Yulieski has the potential to have an impact at the Major League level wherever he winds up signing, once Major League Baseball declares him a free agent. It is unknown when either brother will be declared a free agent but if Yulieski is granted free agency during the season, there are a number of teams that will be interested.
Yulieski at the age of 31 has played 15 seasons of baseball between The Cuban National Series and The Japan Central League. Most of his experience has come from playing in Cuba however where he has been talked about as the best player on the island for years. He is basically the Cuban Babe Ruth. In Cuba he owns a ridiculous career line of .333/.415/.576. He played a full season in Japan during 2014 when the Cuban government allowed him to go overseas to play. Even in Japan Yulieski had a great line of .305/.349/.536. Yulieski has mainly played third base throughout his career, but also has experience at playing second base as well. Many scouts believe that Yulieski could bring an impact bat and glove immediately to the Majors this season, as well as continue to perform at a high level for another 4-5 seasons. Last spring Baseball America’s Ben Badler had compared Yulieski to David Wright and Hanley Ramirez in terms of bat speed and power. Yulieski can expect to receive big contract offers when he is officially granted free agency and would make sense for contending teams looking for an impact player. I listed some teams below that would make sense for Yulieski, if he were granted free agency this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Dodgers are always in the market it seems for every Cuban player who has become available and they are willing to invest big money in these players as well. The Dodgers are heavily involved in the international market and it would not surprise me if they make a play for Yulieski when he becomes available. The Dodgers always have the money to spend and if they believe Yulieski makes them a better ball club they will not hesitate to pull the trigger. The Dodgers currently have Justin Turner at the hot corner and he had a great breakout season last year, after making the team on a minor league deal. However Turner has been a career utility infielder, and if he regresses to the mean this season it gives Los Angeles more inclination to sign Yulieski while they are in win-now mode.
New York Yankees:
The Yankees were not big players in free agency this year, which is something of a rarity. However the Yankees can still make a splash signing once Gourriel is declared a free agent. With Greg Bird out for the season, the Yankees may be inclined to use Chase Headley at first base to keep Mark Texiera fresh this season. Headley was recently signed to a 4 year $50 million dollar deal this offseason, but the Yankees have never shied away from eating money. Gourriel can provide the Yankees another middle of the order bat and a solid defensive third basemen. This move would relegate Headley to a bench/platoon role, but Gourriel would be an upgrade over the inconsistent Headley, who hasn’t hit up to the potential many saw in his breakout 2012 season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
The Angels are another team who usually have money to spend and are in win-mode now as well. The Angels have a win-now roster that includes Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Jered Weaver. Adding another bat to the lineup would only help and it would relegate Yunel Escobar to a super-utility role. The Angels right side of the infield would have great defense also between Gourriel and Andrelton Simmons. Artie Moreno recently stated that there are concerns with their budget, but with their window to win closing and a barren farm system, the Angels may need Gourriel if they believe he is an upgrade on Escobar. The real question is whether the Angels would be able to afford him?
San Diego Padres:
The Padres are in a weird mode where it seems as if they are rebuilding, but they are also believing they can contend. Going into the season they have Yangervis Solarte penciled in at third base and he had some decent numbers last season (.270/.320/.428). The Padres are expecting Solarte to take another step forward this season, but I look at them as a dark horse team who would enter the Gourriel sweepstakes, if they were in the race, and Gourriel was available. Gourriel would be considered an upgrade on Solarte despite his decent 2014 campaign, and the Padres could prove themselves true contenders with the signing of the elder Gourriel brother.