Through 66 games, the Los Angeles Dodgers rank 18th in the league in runs scored. Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick, the Dodgers’ two main third basemen, are each hitting below .235. The solution? Yulieski Gourriel. Widely viewed as the best hitter in the world currently not in MLB, Gourriel has been declared a free agent this week after defecting from Cuba. Although he is 32 years old, Gourriel has hit .337/.421/.582 over 15 Serie Nacional seasons—Cuba’s top baseball league. In addition, the Cuban hit an unreal .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs in 224 plate appearances. Gourriel has been touted as a well above average hitter that can immediately be an impact bat upon signing. The impact he can provide at the plate for the Dodgers would provide a much-needed spark for an offense that has continued to struggle scoring runs.
According to Ben Badler’s scouting report, Gourriel is a complete hitter who can hit for power while keeping a high average. The Cuban has excellent bat speed and plate discipline combined with tremendous raw power that rates out as a 70 in a 20-80 scale. For a Dodgers lineup that is a disappointing 27th in MLB in batting average and only 17th in home runs, Gourriel’s bat would be a much-needed boost. From all indications, Gourriel should be counted on to contribute as a regular over the second half of the season if signed in the near future. He would need a little bit of tuning up in the minors before reaching the majors, but his bat definitely has the ability to play at the big league level. In essence, Gourriel would be like a trade deadline acquisition who has the ability to make a big impact down the stretch in a pennant race.
Turner has been the Dodgers’ regular third baseman over the past two seasons recording the highest OPS of any Dodger player over that time span, but his performance at the plate this season has taken a significant dive. Similarly, Kendrick has had by far the worst season of his career to date with an OPS that still stands below .600. If the Dodgers were to sign Gourriel, Kendrick would likely be the player most impacted. Gourriel regularly played third base in the Serie Nacional, but he has also played second base and even center field. Gourriel is a good athlete who surely has the ability to play multiple positions so as to keep his impact bat in the lineup. Although he may take a few starts from Turner, Kendrick will be the main player to lose at-bats. Turner has been hot over the past few weeks, putting together excellent at-bats and rocketing the ball all over the park. Just in the recent series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Turner went 5-12 with a double and a home run. As a result, Gourriel would likely take Kendrick’s place as a utility right-hander who can play multiple positions. Being that Gourriel was able to play center field and already plies his trade on the left side of the infield, it would not be surprising if the Cuban was able to play left field effectively—Kendrick’s main position so far in 2016. With Kendrick’s struggles so far this season, Gourriel’s bat would be a huge upgrade over the struggling utility man. Where Kendrick is more of a bottom of the order bat at this stage of his career, Gourriel would be a middle of the order bat. A dramatic upgrade of this sort would be a huge boost to the Dodgers’ struggling lineup.
At 32 years old and slightly past his prime, Gourriel’s contract would not be as long in duration as many of the other Cubans to defect over the past few years have received. However, the deal would not be cheap as many scouts believe the Cuban will command about $15m per year. The Dodgers have shed plenty of salary over the past two seasons and have more than enough financial might to add another contract of this amount to the payroll. A realistic pact would be between 3 years/$50m and 4 years/$60m. Either of these two deals would keep Gourriel through his 36-year-old season, not breaking the Dodger ownership’s new rule of not signing players past that age. Gourriel will not come cheap but the impact he can have on the Dodgers’ sputtering lineup would be more than worth the value. Both Turner and Kendrick are over 30 years old, so Gourriel may also become a fixture in the Dodgers’ lineup over the next few years. The Dodgers are definitely in win-now mode and Gourriel fits the profile of a player who is suited to help a team that needs to compete over the next few seasons. In addition, another big potential draw for Gourriel is the presence of a fellow Cuban in Yasiel Puig as well as numerous other Cubans throughout the Dodgers’ minor league system. The Dodgers have a very strong Latino presence in the clubhouse that can be a big draw for a player that will need assistance in adjusting to a drastically new environment.
The Dodgers have not spent quite as much money as they did at the end of the Colletti era, but now is the perfect opportunity to splash the cash and bring in an impact hitter that can help transform the lineup similar to what Yoenis Cespedes was able to do for the Mets last season. The Dodgers should, and frankly need, to sign Gourriel.