Update: Yulieski Gurriel has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball.
Imagine the Kennedy family played baseball instead of politics. That seems to be the story of the Gurriel family in Cuba, where the patriarch Lourdes Sr. played as an MVP and managed the National team. Lourdes Sr. had a brother, uncle, and cousin were likewise stars, and since then the attention turned to his sons.
The oldest brother Yunieski is 33-years old and had two MVP awards in his 16-year career in Cuba, and now plays in Quebec. Middle son Yulieski Gurriel (31) and younger brother Lourdes Jr. (22) were still Cuban nationals but appear to have defected following this winter's Carribbean Series.
Considered by some to be the best prospect in Cuba, Lourdes Jr. will be subject to draft spending limits and will be well out of the Rays' reach, but Yulieski Gurriel is old enough to immediately become a free agent under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Better still, he already has an international career.
With special permission from the nation of Cuba, Yulieski Gurriel was able to play 62 games in Japan during the 2014 season, where he lived up to his reputation with a .305/.349/.536 batting line and 11 home runs. Between both leagues he totaled 29 HR, and in the new season has been on fire.
Only 23 games into the 2015-2016 season in Cuba, he had ratcheting up a .ludicrous .535/.604/1.012 batting line with 10 long balls in 106 plate appearances.Hot damn.
Here's more on Yulieski's reputation from mlb.com's Jesse Sanchez:
Yulieski Gurriel is one of Cuba's most celebrated and decorated players.
The infielder was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He's been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series.
It should be noted that the Gurriel's spell their name with and without an "o" as Gourriel. Both Baseball Reference and Wikipedia include the "o" as do the Cuban national team jerseys,but as of 2014 both defecting brothers have dropped the "o" and I have followed suit with this article.
You can watch the new spelling on the back of said player hitting dingers below:
Entering his age-32 season, it's hard to know whether Yulieski will be expensive. Here are some important notes from MLB Trade Rumors:
ranked by Baseball America's Ben Badler as the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. The third baseman is a career .333/.414/.577 hitter as a professional and has enjoyed success in both Cuba and, recently, Japan[...]
Badler has previously praised Yulieski for his plus bat speed and plus raw power to all fields, drawing comparisons to David Wright and Hanley Ramirez from Badler last spring (prior to Ramirez's poor debut season in Boston). He's said to be an above-average defender at third base, where he's best suited, but also capable of handling second base adequately.
The Rays likely don't have the funds, even with an under-expectations payroll heading into 2016. The Rays likely don't have a need for a 2B/3B, nor do they have a need for a DH with Corey Dickerson and Desmond Jennings clogging left field, and the James Loney-Logan Morrison-Steve Pearce cerberus at first.
But the Rays should at least be interested in a player that might elevate the team's status on the island nation.
Tampa Bay will be the first time to take an ambassadorial trip to Cuba this millennium when the Rays play the Cuban National Team in March for a one-game series. Part of the Rays' hope is to begin growing roots between the Cuban-rich Tampa Bay area and the now-open nation, and such a celebrity could help that cause.
Furthermore, the Rays have only been adding power to the roster, and Yulieski would undoubtedly help that cause. For that matter, here are more dingers:
Here's more on the best player in Cuba from Ben Badler.
With his father Lourdes Sr. being a member of the Cuban Communist party and a national hero from his own time as a player on the national team, Yulieski had been seen as forbidden fruit by many scouts who thought he would never leave Cuba.
Now that he has, he's expected to set off a significant bidding war as soon as he becomes eligible to sign, as he's not subject to international bonus pools. Gurriel, a listed 6-foot, 195 pounds, has lightning-fast hands and classic third base tools with arm strength, body control and plus power.
Speculation about how much the elder Gurriel would sign for would be premature; he's a better player than Hector Olivera, who signed in 2015 on a six-year, $62.5 million contract with a $28 million bonus.
Tampa Bay is a small market team nestled in a strong Cuban population and will take MLB's first foray into Cuba in nearly two decades next month. It's not known exactly when Yulieski will become a free agent, as he must establish free agency first. When he does, it looks like he'll be quite expensive.
The team's payroll currently sits below $70 million as one of the lowest in baseball.
Dare to dream.