On Friday afternoon, news broke that the Toronto Blue Jays had signed Cuban international free agent Lourdes Gurriel to a seven year, $22 million deal. At the ripe age of 22 and a talent who can play both shortstop and the outfield, he’s the type of player the Tigers could use to rebuild their farm system. Unlike his older brother, Yulieski of the Astros, it was widely assumed that Lourdes would need some seasoning in the minors. Still, combining his versatility in the field with his on-base ability, he has a major skill set that should be worth the wait. Given the relatively low price of his new deal, it feels like the Tigers missed out on a big opportunity.
While the Tigers are cutting payroll this offseason, adding Gurriel on a seven-year contract with a base value of $22 million (or slightly higher) would have been a bargain for a player with his raw talent. As of now, the Tigers will be paying three different players over $22 million just for next season. Gurriel would have immediately become their top prospect, and with his positional flexibility, could have helped the major league team in some form as soon as 2018.
Last winter, Gurriel was pegged as the next big player to hit the free agent market out of Cuba, following in the steps of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. His Hot Stove started to heat up in late September when Lourdes announced that he would be hosting workouts following the conclusion of the World Series. At the time, we wrote that the Tigers should be interested. Alas, they were not one of the teams reportedly in on him.
Now, he’s off the market, and he went at a bargain price. The Blue Jays’ farm system just got better, and their uncertain future got a little brighter. Meanwhile, the Tigers are still caught in limbo with not only their major league roster, but their entire organization due to a poor farm system. Obviously, one player isn’t going to completely change the direction of an organization, but the Tigers have no choice but to rebuild their minor leagues. Establishing a strong presence on the international market is one of the best ways to do that.
The Tigers are at an organizational crossroads. They could either go all in for 2017 with their current roster, unload virtually everyone and rebuild now, or half-ass it this winter and trade away a few contracts while settling for mediocrity next season. Options one and two are both defensible, while option three would put the organization in a limbo that won’t be fun for anyone.
How does this relate to Lourdes Gurriel? Although we’re only at the start of the offseason, all signs point to the Tigers undergoing some sort of rebuild. How significant it is remains to be seen, though. Either way, the emphasis has already shifted to restocking one of the worst farm systems in baseball. While many assume that the rebuilding process should be done through drafts and trades, the international market has also proven to be quite beneficial despite it costing more money than the other methods.
It’s not only about Gurriel, though. The Tigers have never been big players on the international market, and that is something that should change going forward. General manager Al Avila stated that he wanted to increase the organization’s international presence, but has not delivered on that claim yet. Missing out on Gurriel isn’t the end of the world. There will be more highly touted international players. However, the Tigers need to buck their current trend and at least show interest in these players. In order for the organization to create a sustainable minor league system, they are going to have to exploit all methods of stocking the farm, and that could have started with Gurriel.