After joining the Arizona Diamondbacks an offseason ago and posting a career-best FanGraphs WAR, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has set himself up nicely to cash in as a first-time free agent.
Gurriel is coming off a 2023 season that saw him named to his first-ever All-Star Game, hit 24 home runs, post a 106 wRC+ and finish second among all left fielders in baseball in defensive runs saved. While he didn’t have the most successful playoff run, he was in Arizona’s lineup in every game on the way to the World Series.
The 30-year-old has traditionally been a streaky player throughout his career, and that was no different in his first season in the desert. His wRC+ fluctuated from a low of 25 in July to a high of 200 in May. There wasn’t really a month in 2023 that resembled his season-long 106 mark.
While the results will come and go, Gurriel excels at making contact. He only swings and misses 18.7% of the time, and despite chasing at a higher-than-league-average rate, he only strikes out in 17.4% of his plate appearances.
So, whichever team does land Gurriel and his colorful hair will be getting a player who makes a ton of contact, consistently posts above-average hard-hit rates and looks to have to made some major strides on defense — seemingly a pretty good mix for a free agent in a weak class of position players.
Just Baseball predicted Gurriel to get a three-year, $48 million deal this offseason. So, let’s take a look at some potential fits for the six-year MLB veteran as next week’s winter meetings approach.
While Gurriel himself has given the indication that he’s ready to move on from the Diamondbacks with a “thank you” post to Arizona on Instagram, there’s no denying how good of a fit he was with the reigning NL champs.
His high-contact approach certainly fits Arizona’s M.O., and after finding his power stroke again in 2023, Gurriel provides a decent amount of punch from the bottom half of the lineup.
After trading for Eugenio Suárez, the Diamondbacks may not be looking to add much more slug and may look to hand an outfield spot to Jake McCarthy full-time. But Gurriel could reasonably slot into the designated hitter role and rotate throughout the outfield as other players need a day off defensively.
Long term, a deal in the three-year range would allow the team to transition to Druw Jones as he progresses through the minor leagues.
With Jorge Soler hitting free agency and the Marlins staring down an outfield/DH foursome of Bryan De La Cruz, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Jesus Sanchez and Avisail Garcia, bringing in Gurriel could cure some of the group’s offensive woes.
The four combined to hit 55 home runs in 2023, and Garcia and De La Cruz were below league average by wRC+.
Miami was also top 10 in MLB in contact rate, so Gurriel may fit with what the Marlins are looking to do offensively. Of course, with a new regime in the front office, the direction they’ll take their offensive approach in is yet to be seen.
On the defensive side, the Marlins finished with the worst outfield defense by defensive runs saved and the 11th worst by outs above average, so Gurriel would be able to shore some of that up while not sacrificing much with the bat.
With Sunday night’s trade of Jarred Kelenic, Seattle now has multiple holes to fill in the outfield.
As the Mariners look to cut strikeouts from their lineup, it seems likely they will be moving on from Teoscar Hernández in the outfield, as well. Could they turn to his former Blue Jays teammate Gurriel?
The Mariners will need to replace Hernández and Kelenic’s bats, and Gurriel might be the perfect player to do so. With his low strikeout rate and improved defense, Seattle might not be able to find a cleaner fit on the market this offseason.
While he did hit two fewer home runs than Hernández, Gurriel actually finished 2023 with a higher ISO and slugging percentage. Hernández did finish with a higher xSLG, barrel rate and max EV, which may bode better for his power numbers in 2024, but moving from one former Blue Jay to another might fit Seattle’s lineup a little better.
New York Yankees
After filtering through numerous left field options in 2023, the Yankees could use a steady presence like Gurriel’s. Their former AL East rival may very well fit into what New York’s front office wants to do.
The Yankees ranked in the bottom half of MLB in both contact and swinging strike rate in 2023, something that Gurriel could help improve if he were added to the lineup. New York also got the least amount of production in MLB from its left fielders.
Yankees that patrolled left in 2023 combined to hit .214/.287/.338 — good for a 75 wRC+ — while posting -1.2 fWAR. Defensively, the group didn’t fare much better, tying for the worst mark in MLB with -14 defensive runs saved and ranking 18th with -7 outs above average.
So, similarly to some of the teams mentioned above, Gurriel could provide an answer for multiple problems with one fell swoop in New York.
While it may seem unlikely that the Guardians spend the requisite amount to land Gurriel this offseason, his bat would be a welcome addition to the team’s lineup.
Cleveland’s outfielders combined for just 16 home runs in 2023, the lowest mark in MLB by 34 longballs. In fact, 49 outfielders hit more homers individually, than the Guardians’ group did altogether.
So, even though Gurriel isn’t the best-suited free agent to add some thump to the middle of an order, he might offer a nice middle ground for an organization that clearly values bat-to-ball skills and outfield defense.
In this scenario, Steven Kwan would likely move to center field (taking over from Myles Straw) with Ramon Laureno playing right, allowing Gurriel to stay in left and creating one of the top defensive groups in MLB.