Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Signs Up for Three More Years in Arizona

Lourdes Gurriel Jr
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona took one of the few quality outfielders available in free agency off the market over the weekend, re-signing outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $42 million. Gurriel gets an opt-out after the second year of the contract, and the Snakes get a $14 million option for a fourth season. While he didn’t have a star-level season for Arizona in 2023, he was a steady contributor in left field and designated hitter, putting up a .261/.309/.463 triple-slash en route to 2.1 WAR.

Gurriel wasn’t the primary reason that Arizona surprised a lot of people in 2023, but he filled a hole in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. In 2022, Arizona designated hitters combined to hit .215/.320/.382. And Jake McCarthy’s struggles — he had a .481 OPS in April — ensured there was plenty of time for Gurriel in the field. While nobody will ever confuse Gurriel with Kevin Kiermaier with the glove, he had the best defensive season of his career by OAA. If you prefer DRS or UZR, he was one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball. I’m not going to go nearly that far, but the combination of respectable work with both leather and wood left Gurriel a league-average starter overall.

In 2024, Gurriel will likely play a similar role, splitting time at left field and DH. The estimates of Ben Clemens (3/45) and our crowdsource (3/36) did well here. Even in a free-agent market with few impact hitters, an ordinary player hitting 30 years old without a ton of defensive value was never likely to set the market on fire.

Let’s crank out the ZiPS projection for Gurriel and see what it has to say about his new deal:

ZiPS Projection – Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
2024 .281 .328 .449 499 59 140 32 2 16 68 33 95 4 112 2 2.0
2025 .278 .326 .441 472 55 131 30 1 15 63 32 91 4 110 2 1.8
2026 .271 .322 .425 442 50 120 27 1 13 57 30 86 3 104 2 1.3

Even while projecting fewer home runs for Gurriel and anticipating the normal start of his decline years, ZiPS sees his new deal as eminently reasonable given free-agent standards, projecting a three-year, $41.1 million contract. The computer may steal away some of his power, but it gives that performance back to him in batting average. While it’s subtle, he made incremental improvements in plate discipline. It’s not obvious from the bottom-line strikeout and walk totals, but he had his best year in contact percentage, has shaved off nearly a third of his swinging-strike rate in two years, and started off on fewer 0–1 counts than he ever had before. He’ll never be Joey Votto, but making fewer outs will keep his bat relevant longer, even while his power inevitably declines.

Some kind of corner outfield move was inevitable for Arizona. Corbin Carroll is a building block talent, and Alek Thomas is an adequate option in center field, but the depth drops off fairly quickly in offensive talent. ZiPS is relatively optimistic about McCarthy (.264/.327/.403), but should a team that was a couple wins away from winning the World Series count on him as a Plan A rather than a fourth outfielder/fallback starter? The non-tendered Kyle Lewis was even riskier than McCarthy (though a potentially great signing for a rebuilding team), and most of the other outfield options like Dominic Fletcher and Jorge Barrosa are most notable for their ability to play center, not torment pitchers.

If we accept that Arizona needed to sign a corner outfielder, there was no obviously superior option available. There are only two outfielders in free agency who I would have clearly preferred, ignoring salaries: Cody Bellinger and Jung Hoo Lee. The latter would have been a fun option, but the Giants already locked him up to a long-term deal. And while I think Bellinger is the better player, I’d have real issues getting in a bidding war in the $150 million (or more!) range given his multi-year crater and some real red flags in his offensive profile. With Thomas and Carroll and additional defensive depth in center field, Arizona is one of the teams least able to get the most out of Bellinger’s glove, making a big deal for him even less appealing.

I’m more confident about Gurriel’s defensive abilities than I am in Jorge Soler’s, and in a theoretical choice between Gurriel and, say, Teoscar Hernández, I see nothing wrong with going with the player that you know, who just hit in the middle of the order for you in the World Series!

If anything surprises me about this signing, it’s the teams that didn’t sign him, or at least drive up the price. I’ll never be shocked that the Marlins didn’t spend money on a free agent, but the Mariners would likely be playing a lot of Taylor Trammell and Cade Marlowe if the season started today, and a 4/60 offer would hardly have crippled their payroll. Nor would such a deal have affected Toronto’s ability to go after other top free agents. Both the Padres and Mets could have used someone like Gurriel as well. Maybe he was comfortable in Arizona, but you could at least run up the bidding a little!

Gurriel was the right player at the right time for the Diamondbacks in April 2023, and he looks like he still is in December 2023. Given a fair contract that gives options to both team and player, there isn’t even anything for mean ol’ Szymborski to snark about.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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5 months ago

And while I think Bellinger is the better player, I’d have real issues getting in a bidding war in the $150 million (or more!) range given his multi-year crater and some real red flags in his offensive profile”

Saving this for the inevitable $150M Bellinger contract followed by a gushing article about how team X is doing the right thing

5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

You know you don’t have to read the site, right? You’re not even paying for it, so walking away should be pretty easy.