The New York Yankees have not been very active on the domestic free agent market, in fact, they’ve been non-existent. It’s a front office committed to spending no additional dollars on the major league roster, not necessarily having any space on the 25 man roster and not eligible to spend in the international market at the moment.
Despite Pedro Alvarez, Juan Uribe, Dexter Fowler and others still being out there, particularly the former two who can add depth to a sudden weakness with the injury to Greg Bird, the Yankees aren’t interested in paying large sums to aged veterans.
All of this in mind, the Yankees should be all in on 22-year-old, Lourdes Gourriel, an infielder who just defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic. Lourdes is due in the US sometime this year, along with his older brother, 31-year-old, Yulieski.
Let’s clear the air about a few moving parts first. Yulieski is not a fit for New York. At 31-years-old he does not fit into the profile of players being targeted by the Yankees’ front office and he primarily plays second base, where the Yankees just acquired Starlin Castro, who will be signed through the 2020 season. Though Yulieski can play third base and may be available by the All Star Break, the Yankees are already booked there with Chase Headley. So though he is currently the better prospect, the older brother of the duo is not a fit in Pinstripes.
Lourdes, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense for Brian Cashman to pursue. Currently 22-years-old, Lourdes will no longer qualify for the international pool limits if he waits until he turns 23, which is in October. Since it’s unlikely the brothers can establish residence in the Dominican before the summer, Lourdes will have the choice of signing for the second half of the season with a team at the signing bonus limits, or waiting to become an unrestricted free agent and eligible to go anywhere if he delays a few months. It’s very likely, Lourdes will wait to sign until he turns 23, at which point the Yankees, who have already maxed out their international signing limits, will be eligible to sign him.
So why does it make sense?
Lourdes plays shortstop primarily but many scouts consider him a future third baseman. Unlike his brother, Lourdes will likely need further seasoning in the minors before making it to the majors. He is still considered a prospect, albeit a top one. Lourdes was hitting: .340/.400/.561 with 10 HR in 237 plate appearances before defecting.
With all of this in mind, it’s very likely Lourdes doesn’t play for a franchise until the Arizona Fall League heading into 2017 as a 23-year-old. Even if he only needs a year in the minors for seasoning, the earliest you will see him in the majors is 2018, as a 24-year-old, which is about normal prospect age anyway. Headley, the current third baseman, has a contract expiring after 2018, when he will be 34-years-old.
Conceivably, the Yankees will have Greg Bird at first base, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro still under contract up the middle in the infield and can either move Headley or use him as a backup corner infielder if Lourdes is available. It would be a perfect transition from a 34-year-old to a 24-year-old continuing the Yankees’ approach towards obtaining young, cost-controlled players and it would immediately bolster the farm system and not cost additional prospects through trade.
Combine all of this with the fact the Yankees just traded their best third base prospect (Eric Jagielo) and the position is thin in the minors. The contract wouldn’t cost major league dollars, wouldn’t count towards the international pool and would allow Lourdes to develop without the pressure of reaching the majors immediately since Headley will still be there. Conceivably, the Yankees can have an all under 30 infield if Gary Sanchez has replaced Brian McCann who could replace Alex Rodriguez at DH when the latter is off the team for good following the 2017 season. It would mean Lourdes is signed, Gregorius is under contract through 2019, Castro through 2020 and Bird would be under team control through 2021 at a minimum.
Filling third base potentially with an international prospect who doesn’t count towards international pool limits is a smart move for the Yankees’ franchise. When money starts coming off the books next year through 2018, New York can concentrate on its pitching and finding a middle of the order bat in free agency, which will be the biggest hole and cost the most, but will supply plenty of options after next year during the winters.