Speaking after his Cuban team was eliminated from Caribbean Series play, third baseman Yuliesky Gourriel said he’s still hoping a path opens up that allows him to play in the U.S. someday.
MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez has the story.
“I’m happy for all the Cubans in the major leagues and we follow them even though we don’t have direct contact with them,” he said. “In Cuba, we play a good level of baseball, but when they leave the country, they seem to elevate their game. Maybe we don’t have best training conditions or equipment, but once they leave Cuba, they explode. Me, I’m just waiting on permission.”
Gourriel, who debuted in Cuba’s top league as an 17-year-old in 2002, has never attempted to defect. As Sanchez puts it, Gourriel’s parents “have close ties to the island’s communist party.” Six or eight years ago, he might have been a major league team’s No. 1 pick in an imaginary draft of Cuba’s top talent. He’s 29 and coming off one of his worst seasons, so he wouldn’t be quite so highly sought after now. Still, he’d almost certainly be a quality regular at third base in the majors.
Gourriel has his best season in Cuba in 2009, when he hit .399/.474/.710 with 22 homers in 328 at-bats. He helped Cuba bring home the gold in the 2004 Olympics, and he’s hit .293 with five homers in 82 at-bats in the three World Baseball Classics.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.