By Reynaldo Cruz
As it was recently announced, the Toronto Blue Jays traded away outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and catcher Gabriel Moreno to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Daulton Varsho. The trade was labeled by some as beneficial for both parties, but it is the D’Backs the ones that could come up on top.
For starters, even though Varsho is young and talented, the Jays gave away a still young Gurriel and a much younger prospect in Moreno. So, for the price of a player wollowing his breakout year, Arizona got a four year younger prospect and a five year older solid producer.
Yet, it is the fact that the Jays have not appreciated Gurriel, who comes from a family of pedigree in the baseball world both in Cuba and the US, the they they should have. The biggest slap on the face was that he was left off the Postseason roster, even after posting a .291 batting average with a .343 OBP for the season. In a year in which only 11 players managed to hit .300, “Yunito” flirted with the mark and was above it for a great part of the season, until injuries and slums made him fall .009 points below.
His defense is also a plus, as he tied fourth in assists with fellow Cuban Yordan Álvarez and Stephen Kwan.
Perhaps, the biggest reason for concern with him may have been his power numbers, as his homerun total took a nosedive from 21 in 2021 to just five this season. But at the same time, he cut down his strikeout total from 18.9% to 16.8%, while raising his walk rate from 5.9% to 6.3%. He also send more balls to the opposite field than any other time in his career, so he definitely made some adjustments to his swing and his mechanics while taking many more pitches and showing more plate discipline, provoking the decrease in homers and the surge in batting average.
There is no doubt that if he had remained healthy, he would have probably hit .300 for the season.
His brother, by far the most famous Cuban player of his generation, also the most beloved and hated player of the island in the last 30 years, also had his demons to slay. Like him, he went from a great season (2021 AL batting champion) to a lackluster year .242, 8 HR, 53 RBI. But like him, he also showed improvement in other stats, hitting 40 doubles (tied for sixth in the AL with fellow Cuban José Abreu), which proved that he was still a producer, mainly in the postseason, just before being scratched off the roster for Game 6 of the World Series on an injury. He remains a free agent.
With Gurriel now fighting for a spot in a different environment (with much better weather than Toronto due to his Cuban origin, but going from a play off team to a cellar dweller), having much less protection than what he had with Vladdy Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette, he remains a wild card for the D’Backs. He has already played first base (something suitable for him with his height), and his background is that of a middle infielder, even if his defense is below average around the second bag.
So far, he looks like the perfect fit for left field in a team that has talented but also very young outfielders. So he will provide quality as well as leadership and guidance to help not only center fielder Alek Thomas and right fielder Jake McCarthy, but also the entire team while bringing up the clubhouse environment.