It appears as though the Gurriel brothers--two of them anyway--have defected from Cuba in an effort to join Major League Baseball. Some of you know who I'm talking about. Some of you don't. For those unaware, the Gurriels are Cuba's most famous baseball family. The patriarch of the family was a star in his time, and his three sons are stars in there own right. The two that appear to have defected are 2B/3B Yulieski and SS/CF Lourdes Jr.. Yulieski is widely considered the best Cuban baseball player of this generation. Lourdes is considered by many to be the best Cuban "prospect"--though some might say he was the best Cuban prospect left in the country as I've seen some suggest Yoan Moncada is the superior player--but not being quite as good as a potential superstar does not mean Lourdes himself doesn't have a high ceiling.
For many years myself and others have been waiting for the Gurriels to come to MLB but it was never a guarantee to happen. As I said, their family is famous in Cuba. Lourdes Sr. won an Olympic gold medal for Cuba in 1992. And for years it was assumed they wouldn't leave Cuba unless it was okay'd by the government. Until recently that seemed unlikely. But Moncada was allowed to leave by the government and some time after that Cuba and the US began normalizing relations. Despite this however, it does seem the Gurriels have left without the government's permission.
I wonder if perhaps the elder brother's age is playing a factor. He's going to turn 32 this year. His time is running out to make a mark in Major League Baseball. I assume the younger brother defected at least in some part out of necessity. Had he stayed behind, after Yulieski left, he certainly would have been under more scrutiny by the Cuban government which might have made it more difficult to leave. But that's all just conjecture on my part and at this point none of it matters.
The next step is to establish residency outside of Cuba so they can be approved by MLB to sign with teams. That will likely take several months. Once they are approved, Yulieski will be free to sign with any team as a full free agent. Lourdes, however, will not. He won't turn 23 until October and until such a time, teams will be under signing restrictions. There are a number of teams that aren't allowed to sign international amateurs for more than $300,000. Teams that aren't under restrictions can technically sign him for any amount, but they'll face a dollar for dollar tax on essentially his entire signing bonus. Those teams will change on July 2nd when the next international signing period begins. So there are a lot of moving parts here.
The Red Sox signed 2B Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million. So we can think of that as Lourdes' ceiling. The Dodgers signed OF Yusniel Diaz for $15 million and RHP Yadiel Alvarez for $16 million. So perhaps we can assume that is Lourdes' floor. But remember, these dollar amounts are effectively doubled because of the signing tax. So teams could be paying between $30 and $60 million for him and he'd only get half. But he'd also become a normal minor leaguer then and have future earnings to look forward to. Traditionally, that would be three pre-arbitration seasons followed by three arbitration seasons. Just taking a shot in the dark, we could be talking about another $15-20 million if he's good. So let's take our fuzzy math to the extreme and say he could stand to make around $50 million this way.
Yasiel Puig signed a 7 year deal worth $42 million with the Dodgers way back in 2012 before money exploded both nationally and internationally. Fast forward to now: The Reds signed Raisel Iglesias to a 7 year deal worth $27 million. He's projected to be a reliever or back-end starter. Lourdes Gurriel can definitely beat Iglesias' deal, and considering inflation, can probably beat Puig's deal. But there is one last thing to consider: service time.
If Lourdes were to sign as an amateur free agent, he would become another minor leaguer. He wouldn't have to be put on a 40-man roster for 4 years, at which time he would get three option years. And MLB club wouldn't technically have to give him a 25 man roster spot for 7 years. Of course it wouldn't take that long. Assuming he doesn't have any trouble adapting to baseball outside of Cuba, he'd likely only need 1 year, 2 max, in the minors. But the signing team, in whatever year his call-up comes, would very likely wait until the Super Two cut-off passes, effectively adding an additional cheap year of team control.
So if Lourdes signs as an amateur free agent, he might not become an MLB free agent until 8-9 years later (after the 2024 or 2025 season). The trade off being he can enter the minors this year and perhaps speed up his ETA by half a year to a year. Whereas, if he only waits until October, he could lock in his free agency at seven years--assuming that's the length of the contract which seems a good bet based on the Puig and Iglesias deals--but that deal wouldn't start until 2018 meaning his free agency wouldn't begin until after the 2024 season.
My guess is Lourdes Gurriel will wait until October to sign. It just makes more financial sense. Perhaps if teams didn't play these service time games it would be more feasible for him to sign as an amateur free agent. But they do, so it doesn't. Yulieski on the other hand, should sign shortly after he's made eligible.
For him we can look at Yoenis Cespedes (4 years/$36 million), Jose Abreu (6/68), and Hector Olivera (6/62) as potential comps. Cespede was signed in 2012 which is why his figure is lower. But Abreu was signed two years ago, and Olivera last year. So 6 years and $60+ million is a good starting point. Olivera was 30 years old when he signed and Abreu was 27. Yulieski is 31 years old now, and will turn 32 in early June. So he's a few years older. My guess is that means he'll be signing for less than 6 guaranteed years. But I wouldn't be shocked to see him top Abreu's overall dollar figure of $68 million. We are talking about the consensus best Cuban baseball player of this generation after all. He also plays a more demanding position than Abreu (2B/3B vs 1B/DH).
Here's Brian Cartwright's, developer of the Oliver projection system, projection for Yulieski Gurriel in 2016:
Yulieski Gourriel— Brian Cartwright (@blcartwright) February 8, 2016
2016 age 31, top 5 hitting 2B or 3B in MLB, contact w/power, few BB
340 wOBA 283/330/458 36 DO 18 HR 37 BB 81 K
It's impossible to say what type of WAR that would translate to, but that's pretty good production. I looked at 2B and 3B in 2015 and it leads me to believe, with solid defense he could be worth around 4 WAR. So even 5/70 ($14M AAV) would be a bargain. Of course age is a concern. But if he has a couple good seasons, he could have immense trade value which cannot be overlooked.
Of the two players, Lourdes probably makes the most sense for the Brewers. They're rebuilding right now and as such, the first couple of seasons from Yulieski would essentially be wasted on Milwaukee. But Lourdes might not be ready to join the major league team until late 2017 or mid-2018. And that fits their competitive timeline perfectly. With all the money they've shed from this year's payroll, and the potential to shed more, they certainly have enough money to pursue one of them. Honestly, they probably have the money to pursue both, but I don't think doing that would make sense.
The Brewers have shown more willingness in recent years to pursue international free agents. They signed Gilbert Lara for big bucks--$3.1 million was big bucks for them at the time anyway--and he was the top international prospect that year. They tried really hard to land Jose Abreu, ultimately falling short by a few million to the White Sox. Then they make a token gesture by extending an offer to Yoan Moncada. It was only around $12-15 million and they put a deadline on the offer--which came well in advance of the Red Sox and Yankees' deadlines--so no one thought it was an earnest effort.
But the Brewers have a new GM and perhaps things will be different now. After seeing all the moves David Stearns has made this offseason, I'm convinced he's very intelligent and he knows what he's doing. That should be that he's at least interested in getting Lourdes. Whether the Brewers have the financial clout to get it done is another question. And perhaps there will be other factors. Will Lourdes want to play where Yulieski signs? I have no idea. This is a saga that will play out for months. And well get a lot more information the sooner we get to their being declared eligible by MLB to sign with teams. I for one will be following this story with great interest.