Will Yuli Gurriel return to Houston Astros in 2023?
The Houston Astros were an active participant in the stove-hot portion of the offseason as team owner Jim Crane and the front office worked to improve the roster of the defending champions.
Justin Verlander is gone and 2020 AL MVP Josè Abreu is now on board. Michael Brantley is back, and barring any unexpected moves, the 2023 Opening Day roster for manager Dusty Baker appears to be largely set. Still, there is a glaring question mark for Baker and company as they look to become baseball’s first 21st-century champions.
First baseman Yuli Gurriel remains a free agent with the calendar now in 2023, and while he’s nowhere near the coveted free agents who have secured nine-figure contracts across the sport, you don’t have to look far to find a collection of teams that could use the 38-year-old. Miami appears to be in the first base market given its recent interest in Red Sox prospect Triston Casas. Perhaps the Red Sox find themselves wanting to add a right-handed platoon option at first base. San Diego continues to pay big money, and Gurriel could fit in alongside lefty first base and DH options in Jake Cronenworth and Matt Carpenter. We should see Gurriel sign a one-year deal with an MLB club before we get into Spring Training.
Will that team be the Astros? The case is a bit complicated. Let’s start with the good news. Gurriel, despite his advanced age, is still a contact-making machine, whose puny 12.5 percent strikeout rate in 2022 was in the top six percent league-wide. And when the lights are brighter, Gurriel shines. Only Jose Altuve has more postseason hits in franchise history, and last October, Gurriel hit .347 with a pair of home runs in 12 games. Houston’s offense made the playoffs thanks in part to its unique ability to put the ball in play. In an era where such skill is all too uncommon, Gurriel was emblematic of the Astros’ approach.
Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros celebrates on the field after the Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, November 5, 2022 in Houston.
Photos by Mary DeCicco/MLB via Getty Images
Gurriel is a clutch hitter and beloved teammate, and Crane might just be tempted to bring Gurriel back for a potential handful of at-bats he could record in the 2023 playoffs. Ultimately though, it’s hard to say that Houston should bring the former betting champ back for one last ride. Of the 92 players who recorded at least 500 at-bats last season, Gurriel ranked 89th in OPS. He finished 31st among the first 34 eligible players in slugging percentage. Gurriel doesn’t bring any positional versatility at this point, and, more importantly, the Astros spent $60 million on a right-handed first baseman less than two months ago. Gurriel’s return seems redundant after the addition of Abreu.
It would be hard to criticize Crane if he brings Gurriel back in 2023. Houston’s owner can spend as much as he wants in a cap-free sport, and while Abreu is now an Astro, there is a way to give Gurriel something close to a few hundred plate appearances keeping him fresh for the playoffs. However, such a situation is unlikely to materialize. David Hensley is a young righty who won a handful of World Series at-bats. Yainer Diaz is a promising hitting prospect who could spend time at first base and DH as well as a catcher this season. The Astros could also add a bat if needed this summer, when the extra hitting isn’t exactly at a great price.
Gurriel is a supporter of Houston’s dynasty, one that should be proudly present at World Series anniversary events in 2027, 2037 and every decade thereafter. But when looking at the current roster, it’s hard to see a place for Gurriel on the 2023 team.