While we await a decision on Cuban prospect Lazarito, which could be coming today, some other big Cuban player news and rumors to discuss.
Do you remember the huge Cuban defection news from just a few days ago? If you don’t, allow me to remind you: Cuba’s top overall player, Yulieski Gurriel, and his younger brother, Lourdes, Jr. are leaving their home country of Cuba to come play baseball in the U.S.
Yulieski, 31, is an immediate MLB impact type, who has long been one of the best players in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and has also starred in the NPB. He’s a good third baseman by trade, but some think he could also play second base. His younger bother Lourdes, Jr., 22, is a very well-regarded prospect-type who would need some time in the minors before playing a role at the Major League level likely in the outfield.
In an article for Baseball America, Ben Badler writes that the Gurriel brothers probably have several months of red tape ahead of them before either signs a deal and begins playing professional baseball in the states. Obviously, that’s a bummer from a baseball fan perspective, but how does it affect the Cubs? Let’s take a look.
Yulieski could legitimately become one of the better players in MLB. His numbers from Cuba reach video game levels, even after adjusting for the competition. In his 215 plate appearances this season, Yulieski has hit .494/.586/.861 with just 2(!!!) strikeouts and 37 walks. That is truly insane. Unfortunately, his age, 31, and more importantly his position, third base, make Yulieski and the Cubs a very poor match. Given that he has to wait several more months to sign and is expected to command a very large contract, a match-up with the Cubs becomes very hard to imagine.
Still, because of his talent, wherever Yulieski lands, it could wind up impacting the Cubs by extension.
Lourdes, Jr., on the other hand, is just 22 years old and is an extremely talented infielder/outfielder with plenty of upside remaining. The Cubs have already blown their budget on IFA throughout this period, which means they will be limited/restricted for the following two years, but if you’re thinking that the red tape delay is going to push the Cubs out of the conversation, you’d be wrong.
If you recall, international free agents from Cuba become unrestricted by IFA limitations if they have five years of professional experience AND are at least 23 years old. As luck would have it, Lourdes, Jr. has five years of experience and is just eight months away from turning 23 (October 19). So, then, if the red tape is going to naturally delay his timing by 3-4 months, anyway, it is strongly expected that Lourdes will wait the additional few months to become an unrestricted free agent.
It is in this way that he can be signed by any team in MLB for any contract he can get without restrictions. So, even if the Cubs are restricted by the IFA rules, Lourdes, Jr. will not be, and he can freely sign with the Cubs … or any one of the other 29 teams that will surely be all over him.
So, yeah, I like the Cubs chances to go after Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. if they like his abilities.
But back to the timeline and Yulieski for a moment. Jesse Sanchez passes something interesting on:
Report says many Cuban players have Panamanian residency. If YG has residency, he can petition MLB for free agency.
— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) February 9, 2016
The suggestion there is that Yulieski might be able to bypass some of the waiting time for free agency and sign sooner rather than later. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Lourdes, Jr. will, too, but it could be a tantalizing offer. Still, I imagine it is in the best interest of Lourdes, Jr. to wait until October and give every team a crack at signing him.
We’ll just have to keep following and see how this plays out. International intrigue!