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Blue Jays: Lourdes Gurriel looking like a gigantic bargain

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 21: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a single in the sixth inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on September 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 21: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a single in the sixth inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on September 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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After signing a seven year, 22 million contract in the 2016 offseason, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is looking like a gigantic bargain for the Toronto Blue Jays.

While not every move the Toronto Blue Jays have made over the last few years has worked out, there are a few that are turning out to be an absolute steal.

One of the best examples might be the contract that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. signed before the 2016 season got underway, agreeing to a seven year pact worth 22 million dollars. It was a lot of money at the time for a 22 year old that still needed minor league seasoning, but the Blue Jays liked what they saw enough to give him a decent chunk of guaranteed money.

So far that contract is looking like a no-brainer for the Blue Jays, as they are just two years into that seven year deal and already Gurriel Jr is a legitimate contributor at the big league level. He entered Friday’s game with a .284/.313/.432 slash line with nine home runs and 32 RBI in 236 at bats, and added to that impressive showing by going 3-4 against the Rays, hitting two home runs in his first two at bats. Including the blast from the night before, he also homered in three consecutive at bats, and the successful evening pushed his batting average up to .292 in roughly half a season worth of plate appearances.

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Coincidentally his brother Yuli Gurriel also had a multi-homer game on Friday night, making for an interesting footnote for the brothers. There have been several brothers playing in the big leagues at the same time, but none have ever had a multi-homer game on the same day, making the Gurriel brothers the first family to accomplish the feat.

Pairing Gurriel Jr’s impressive skills at the plate with his potentially plus-value glove, the Blue Jays have themselves an awfully good player who might just be hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of his potential. Even if this was as good as he ever got as a big leaguer, the Blue Jays would be more than satisfied I would think, as far as return for their investment. But when you’re talking about a 24 year old with just 62 MLB games under his belt, it’s fun to dream on the growth that we’re going to witness in the coming years.

The Blue Jays may have an elite player on their hands, but at the very least they’ve got a versatile contributor who is extremely cost effective for the next five seasons. In 2019 he’ll earn just 1.5 million, with small incremental raises that take him up to just 5.4 million in 2023. There was some question about whether he would have opt-out clauses included when the deal was signed, but I’ve yet to come across hard evidence to suggest that’s the case (feel free to correct me in the comments section if I’m just missing it somehow). Even then, the Blue Jays would still be in an advantageous position having him under contract, even if the price was less of a bargain in the team’s favour.

According to baseballreference.com, Gurriel has been worth 1.1 oWAR, but still needs some work on the defensive end, coming in at -0.8 dWAR. So far the Cuban talent has played 42 games (36 starts) at shortstop and and 24 (22 starts) at second base, posting slightly better numbers at the latter position. While he still needs some seasoning on the defensive end, the eye test definitely shows a player who is capable of handling shortstop, or likely any position on the diamond save for pitcher or catcher.

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It doesn’t always work out when you gamble on an unproven commodity, but in this case it looks like the front office hit a home run. With five years remaining of contract control and realistically just being at the start of the his MLB career, the Blue Jays owe him a little less than 20 million dollars to suit up for them through the 2023 season. The way things are looking so far, I’d say that’s going to work out just fine.

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