Houston (CBS HOUSTON) — The Astros made their big splash before the MLB Trade Deadline, and it didn’t even involve a trade.
The club formally introduced Cuban free-agent signee Yulieski Gurriel on Saturday at Minute Maid Park and have agreed to terms with the 32-year-old infielder.
“In the month of July, you typically look for ways to improve your team for the stretch run,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “That’s part of why we did this but also because we want Yulieski to be on this team for the next five years and [make the playoffs], year in and year out.
Multiple reports suggested that the deal is for five years and $47.5 million, the largest sum Houston has spent on a free agent during Luhnow and owner Jim Crane’s four-year tenure.
Luhnow said the team has no doubt about Gurriel’s ability to contribute right away.
“He’s a five-tool player,” Luhnow said. “Power, speed, his arm… his strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his defense, it’s all the elements you look for in success at the Major League level.”
Gurriel hit .500 with 15 homers, 20 doubles and 51 RBI in the abbreviated Cuban National season for the Industriales last year.
He defected from Cuba last month, and the Astros struck quickly, partly thanks to Luhnow’s longtime scouting relationship with Gurriel.
“I’ve watched him through the World Baseball Classic, watched him on the Cuban international team and as much as I can in the Cuban League,” Luhnow said. “To me, he was the Cuban star everyone was hoping would become available to a Major League team.”
He’s a Houston Astro now, and the moment was not lost on Gurriel. Several family members and friends crowded the press conference room as Gurriel showed off his new uniform.
It’s a late start to a Major League career, but the 15-year professional baseball veteran partly credited the recent thawing in the United States-Cuba relationship for the opportunity.
“It always seemed so far away,” Gurriel said, via translator, of playing in the MLB. “Now, it finally feels closer.”
It still may be several weeks before he actually plays for the Astros. He still needs to obtain a working visa in the U.S., a slight off-field obstacle. Physically, Luhnow lauded Gurriel, saying the Cuban has kept himself in tremendous baseball shape.
Yet he still needs an “extended Spring Training” with weeks worth of Minor-League at-bats before he’ll be ready to join the big-league squad. Luhnow said they might start Gurriel at Double-A Corpus Christi, though nothing is set other than a likely minimum of 50 or 60 at-bats.
“We’ll figure out a way to accelerate that process, but clearly the goal is to get him in uniform and playing in Minute Maid Park as soon as possible,” Luhnow said.
Gurriel has played in three World Baseball Classics for Cuba, played overseas in Japan and won a Gold Medal with the Cuban National Team at the 2004 Olympics. He was a sought-after player following his defection, and he also worked out with the Dodgers, Giants, Mets and Yankees.