One of the more notable names that is still available on the free agent market is former Astros infielder Yuli Gurriel. The 38-year-old Gurriel is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, but did come through with a strong run in the postseason for the defending World Series champions. With rumors abound regarding a potential reunion between Gurriel and the Astros, what needs to be considered first is whether it makes sense for both sides. Given what’s taken place over the past few months in Houston, a path may no longer be feasible.
A Look at Gurriel
Despite a strong run in the 2022 MLB Playoffs and a second World Series title, things didn’t go particularly well for Yuli Gurriel. A year after the 38-year-old won the AL batting title, Gurriel hit just .242 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs in 2022. Besides batting average, Gurriel posted career-lows in ISO (.117) and OPS (.674), as well as his lowest OBP (.288) in a full 162-game season. Traditionally a line-drive hitter who looks to punch balls straight away, Gurriel also saw jumps in his pop-up rate (9.9%) and Under% (32.8%) rates. Both, for what it’s worth, were below league-average.
2022 marked the second time in three seasons that Gurriel posted an OPS+ below league-average, but it’s important to note that the other occasion came in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Still, it’s not encouraging to see a player like Gurriel — who has possessed excellent bat-to-ball skills throughout his career — struggle so much with making good contact and driving the ball at the plate.
One positive from the 2022 campaign was that aforementioned run that Gurriel went on during the playoffs. Gurriel batted .347 (17-49) during the playoffs, and the 38-year-old connected for two home runs and three extra base hits. The former Astros first baseman’s postseason ended in Game 5 of the World Series, after injuring himself in a rundown between third base and home plate.
Gurriel is at the age where talent evaluators need to be wary about natural regressions. But, could the former AL batting champion still make sense for the ‘Stros?
A Look at the Astros for 2023
The path towards regular playing time will be tight for Gurriel, should the veteran infielder decide to re-join the Astros for 2023. Houston upgraded at the position this past November, when the Astros signed slugging first baseman José Abreu to a three-year deal. Gurriel could act as a DH given a below-average defensive skillset at first, but with Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley in town, that position could also be tough to crack.
Still, a bat like Gurriel could make sense, particularly as a platoon option against left-handed hitters. Gurriel is a career .282/.333/.474 hitter against lefties, and had better numbers (.265 AVG) against left-handers last season than right-handers (.232). As things stand right now, right-handed options on the 40-man roster for the Astros outside of the regulars include David Hensley, Joe Perez, Rylan Bannon, Mauricio Dubon, and Jake Meyers. None of those players have the career resume of Gurriel, but several of these names do have the flexibility to play multiple positions and can be useful bats on the bench.
It would ultimately would depend on what kind of deal — and most importantly, role — that Gurriel would be willing to take, but bringing back the former Astros first baseman could work for 2023.