Yulieski Gourriel, a two time MVP of Cuba’s Serie Nacional and the star of the country’s 2006 World Baseball Classic run, has signed a deal to join the Yokohama DeNA Baystars of Japan’s Nippon Professional League. Gourriel will reportedly earn close to $1 Million in the deal, according to NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman in reference to a Japanese report from Nikkan Sports.
The former shortstop has since converted to third base and most scouts seem to believe his best years are behind him, but at 29 years of age there’s still a chance that Gourriel has some productive years left in him. He’s spent the past 11 seasons playing professionally in Cuba’s top league, taking home back to back MVP awards in his age 20 and 21 seasons. Gourriel has appeared in rumors linking him to a potential defection and signing with a Major League team off and on for years, but most recently cropped up again this past February. Finally free to pursue a job outside the country, Gourriel was believed to be interested in a deal with a team either here in the US or in Japan.
Surprisingly few MLB teams appeared to express a genuine interest in Gourriel this spring. A player once compared to a young Derek Jeter following his performance in the 2006 WBC, he’s clearly lost a step in the field and on the bases but there’s believe that he can play at a high level. Pittsburgh’s international scouting director still gave Gourriel a positive report, as MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez relayed back in February:
He was younger before, so he was a faster runner, but he still has solid-average tools and he’s an athletic guy that can swing the bat. He’s been one of the top players in Cuba in the past and continues to be. He’s playing a little bit bored and obviously, you have some concerns about that, but it’s hard to ignore his ability. He would be a good guy to see play in the Major Leagues.
There’s no way of knowing if Gourriel’s chance will come, though a strong campaign in Japan could certainly help those odds. Numerous Cuban imports have made significant impacts on their new clubs and there are numerous teams across baseball that could benefit from an experienced infielder such as Gourriel, which begs the question why teams were so seemingly disinterested in signing him.