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GOOD NEWS: The signing of Yuli Gurriel injects new hope into free agents seeking teams.



Saturday’s signing of Yuli Gurriel offers a glimmer of hope for veteran free agents still on the lookout for teams.

Despite Gurriel’s past achievements as a former batting champion, his age of 39 and primary position as a first baseman suggest that he may remain within the realm of minor-league contracts, such as the one he recently inked with the Atlanta Braves.

Contrastingly, Matt Olson, the incumbent first baseman for Atlanta, boasts an impressive track record, having played a full 162-game season three times, including consecutive years, and leading the league in both home runs (54) and RBIs (139) during the 2023 season. At 30 years old, Olson is currently in the prime of his career.

Gurriel, however, appears to be on a downward trajectory. Despite his eight-year tenure in the league, during which he achieved career highs with a .319 batting average in 2021 and 31 home runs and 104 RBIs in 2019, his performance dipped to a .245 average with Miami last season. Known as a contact hitter who doesn’t frequently strike out or draw walks, Gurriel possesses versatility on the field, having played 92 games at third base and 20 games at second throughout his career.

Indeed, Gurriel faces the challenge of joining a team that boasts talent across every position. The Atlanta Braves infield, featuring standouts like second baseman Ozzie Albies and third baseman Austin Riley, showcased its strength with appearances at the Seattle All-Star Game last summer, alongside Olson and shortstop Orlando Arcia.

Furthermore, Gurriel’s prospects as a potential designated hitter (DH) for Atlanta seem dim, given Marcell Ozuna’s presence. Ozuna has been a force to reckon with, currently tied for the major-league lead in home runs this season after hitting 40 homers last year.

The Braves are considering Gurriel as a potential bench player, potentially competing with light-hitting utilityman Luis Guillorme, or as a trade asset to acquire pitching help before the July 30 trading deadline.

In the interim, Gurriel provides added depth to the Braves’ minor-league roster. His versatility, stemming from his Cuban background, also serves as insurance against potential injuries at either infield corner within the major-league club. Gurriel’s decorated past includes winning a Gold Glove in 2021 and securing World Series rings in 2017 and 2022, all achieved during his tenure with Houston.

Zuli Gurriel, the older brother of 30-year-old Arizona outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., has been designated to Triple-A Gwinnett.

While Atlanta has not disclosed the specific details of Gurriel’s contract, it’s anticipated that his earnings will be far below his peak salary of $14.4 million in 2017 or even last year’s $1.25 million.

Other unsigned free agents, including Wil Myers, AJ Pollock, Jonathan Schoop, Jean Segura, and a host of pitchers such as Zack Greinke, Brad Hand, Aaron Loup, Mark Melancon, Noah Syndergaard, and Vince Velasquez, may also find themselves facing financial constraints if they wish to continue their careers.

Another potential avenue is emerging as well. Controversial pitcher Trevor Bauer, who notably earned a Cy Young Award and ERA title with the 2020 Reds, has expressed openness to signing for the major-league minimum salary of $740,000, provided his contract includes performance-based incentives.

Bauer, aged 33, faced a suspension without pay in 2022 for 144 games, resulting in the loss of $28,131,868 in salary, due to alleged violations of Major League Baseball’s sexual abuse policy. Subsequently released by the Los Angeles Dodgers, he has not played in the majors since.

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