By Reynaldo Cruz
A few years ago, I didn’t think I would be writing a piece defending Yuli Gurriel. For starters, I am not a fan, never was, and never will be. Gurriel was on the opposite side of my team of Holguín in 2002, and he was one of the reasons “we” didn’t win before Game 7.
Apart from that, I have always been reluctant to be a fan of what the Cuban mainstream media promotes. And Yuli was promoted. Not only him, but also his brothers and his iconic father were in the favored end of the media. Instead of helping him or them, they were inflicting a lot of harm.
Yuli was the subject of all kinds of offenses and attacks in Cuba. People did not forgive him grounding into a game-ending double play against Korea in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Gold Medal Game. They also resented him for making a costly error in the ninth inning of an elimination game in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Let’s be honest here: he made an error, but he also drove in a run with a long double. His mental approach was messed up with when manager Víctor Mesa (somebody who may fall into his category of love-hate relation) made him try to bunt a runner over.
When he left Cuba, many (myself included) thought he would have a couple of lackluster years before withering in oblivion. He silenced his detractors by having a solid 2017 season. That year, he hit .299 with 18 homeruns and 75 RBIs, all the while playing a new position: first base.
Over the next two years, he would again hit over .290, and he amassed 31 homers and 104 RBIs in 2019. The pandemic-shortened season took a toll on his numbers, making him have his worst year EVER with a paltry .232 batting average.
When everybody thought he was through, he came back and won the AL batting title with .319 while also landing a Gold Glove.
But 2022 was a season to forget. Even though he amassed 40 doubles (tying for his second best mark), his batting average plummeted to .242. His defense was also questionable, but he managed to stay afloat. The arrival of Trey Mancini made people believe Yuli would lose some playing time, but he took the post season by storm. Only an injury sustained on Game 5 of the World Series kept him from the roster.
Now, all of this might seem irrelevant to some, but it isn’t. Despite his age, Yulieski Gurriel Castillo has the athleticism of a 30-year-old man. He can play first, second and third with the same intensity and speed as a younger player, and he is hungry.
After the Astros did not decide to give him a qualifying offer, they signed his countryman José Abreu. Abreu, slightly younger than Yuli and with much less wear in the difficult conditions of play in Cuba, will put up numbers to remember in the Show. With that signing, Yuli’s possibilities to return to Houston vanished, and he had to start looking for something in the market.
Whether he will land a big deal or not, Gurriel can still be an asset, both at the plate or on defense for ANY team. Any team should sign him, because he can still contribute. His last postseason performance shows so.