The MLB trade deadline (Aug. 1st) is an active time for all clubs, whether teams are buying attempting to make a postseason run, or those who are selling trying to rebuild and recoup younger assets for their farm system.

The Houston Astros were very active in 2015, trading for Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers while giving up prime talent in their farm system. It worked out well for Houston, who claimed a Wild Card berth and almost took out eventual World Series champion Kansas City in the ALDS.

Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of their moves in 2015, they gave up a lot of young talent and the players they traded for haven’t produced to what we thought they would (looking at you Carlos Gomez). However, it’s hard to blame GM Jeff Luhnow, who has done a remarkable job in rebuilding the Astros to a perennial World Series contender.

While we are still a week or two away from a flurry of deadline deals, the Astros made a move that could catapult them into a pennant race. The move I’m referring to is the signing of Cuban Yulieski Gurriel (formerly Gourriel) to a five-year, $47.5 million contract.

Houston Astros sign Yulieski Gurriel
(USA TODAY Sports)

Gurriel, who defected from Cuba in February, was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball last month. He drew interest from multiple teams, including the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Mets.

Gurriel, 32, represented Cuba in three World Baseball Classic tournaments and also was a member of Cuba’s Olympic team in 2008.

Projected as either a third baseman or second baseman in the majors, Gurriel had been training in South Florida with his younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel, who also defected in February.

This move is obviously not a trade, but after a few weeks of getting his feet wet in the minors it is expected that Gurriel will be able to come up immediately to the big league club and make an impact. With this move, the Astros did not have to give up any young talent and can still get a ‘jolt’ that most deadline deals provide when Gurriel joins the club.

Some baseball experts are wary of signing international players because it is unsure how their game will translate to the big leagues. Gurriel’s game is not that case. He has already proven he can hit big league pitching and has played well on the biggest of stages. He led the 2005 Baseball World Cup with 8 homers and was second to Michel Enriquez with 19 RBI. He hit .319/.385/.894 with 12 runs in 11 games. Joey Votto was second in home runs, three behind Gurriel. He made the All-Tournament Team. He was the star of the Cuban National Team which lost in the final of the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, Gurriel hit .300/.344/.467 and led the tourney with 9 runs in 7 games. He also drove in 7. He batted .389/.381/.500 in the 2006 Intercontinental Cup with 10 runs and 8 RBI in 9 games. In the 2006 qualifiers for the 2008 Olympics, Gurriel batted .314/.400/.743 with 4 HR and 12 RBI in 9 games. He was second to Alexander Mayeta in RBI and tied for the lead with five others in home runs in the tournament.

Since he became a professional player in Cuba at age 17, Gurriel has hit under .300 twice in 16 seasons with 250 HR and 1,018 RBI.

If you look at deals that have already been made, specifically by the Boston Red Sox, you can see how the Astros are winning the trade deadline. The Red Sox acquired Padres left-hander Drew Pomeranz for pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza. Pomeranz is a nice pitcher who is controllable for two years after the 2016 season, but was he worth the price? Espinoza at 18 years old is being touted as the next Pedro Martinez. He is a top 15-20 prospect depending on which media outlet you look at and owns elite velocity, making batters swing and miss at an alarming rate (averages 10 strikeouts per 9 IP).

This may help the Sox immediately, but is it worth giving up the next Pedro? Doubtful. Pomeranz is having a breakout season that saw him make the NL All Star game, but let’s not forget he is heading to the American League and leaving the best pitcher-friendly park in all of MLB (Petco Park).

This is why the Gurriel move is the best to-date this summer. Houston can use him at different spots in the infield and occasionally at DH. While there will be plenty more moves made before August 1st, you will be hard-pressed to find one as good as this.

The Astros are currently 4.5 games behind the Rangers for the AL West division lead and 1 game behind both Toronto and Boston for the two Wild Card spots. I expect the race to get even closer once Gurriel hits Houston, and can put Luhnow on the map for Executive of the Year.

 

 

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