Yulieski Gourriel has landed an Astro(s)nomical contract…
The 32-year-old Cuban baseball free agent has agreed to a five-year deal with the Houston Astros. The contract is worth $47.5 million, according to ESPN.
The team’s general manager Jeff Luhnow first saw Gourriel play a decade ago in a tournament in Amsterdam. He imagined him playing in the major leagues and made that dream a reality on Saturday.
“To be able to get him now really in the prime of his career … is a huge deal for us,” Luhnow said. “It’s probably the most exciting day since I’ve been here except for the wild-card win against the (New York) Yankees.”
A beaming Gourriel was introduced in Houston on Saturday, seated next to Luhnow behind a table draped with the American and Cuban flags.
He was handed an Astros cap and jersey and proudly put both on, slowly fastening each button on the jersey with a huge smile never leaving his face.
“I have no words to describe this moment,” he said in Spanish through an interpreter.
Gourriel was one of the most sought international free agents since leaving Cuba in February after competing in the Caribbean World Series in the Dominican Republic. He was declared a free agent last month.
There were times Gourriel wondered if he’d ever get the chance to play in the majors.
“I always had the hope to play in the United States,” he said. “But it always seemed like something very far away … it has been my dream my whole life to be here and to play next to big league players.”
The Astros are in the process of obtaining a work visa for Gourriel. After that’s done Luhnow said he’ll head to the minors to get some at-bats to prepare to face major league pitching for the first time.
Houston’s Triple-A club is in Fresno, California, but the Astros want Gourriel to be closer to the team, so he’ll likely get those swings with Double-A Corpus Christi. For now, he’ll head to Houston’s spring training complex in Florida to prepare for his next move.
In 15 seasons in Cuba, he is a.335 hitter with 250 homers and 1,018 RBIs. Last season, he hit .500 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs in just 49 games for Industriales.
“To me, he was the Cuban star that everybody was hoping would become available to a major league team,” Luhnow said. “It’s a combination of pretty impressive offensive output, both power and speed and average and the ability to take walks and avoid strikeouts — all of the things we talk about being key elements of success in the major leagues.
“He’s a five-tool player with 15 years of incredible success on the international stage … pretty much the combination we’d design if we were going to design a ballplayer,” Luhnow said.
Though Gourriel, who said he prefers to be called “El Yuli,” will be a rookie in the majors at 32, he’ll be looked upon to be a leader for a team with several young Latin stars. When Luhnow went to Florida to watch him work out, it took only a short conversation with the player to see that he’d be perfectly comfortable filling that role.
“The makeup here is exactly what you look for in a ballplayer in your clubhouse,” Luhnow said.