WHAT'S THE HOLDUP?

Here's why Houston Astros are facing critical roster crossroads

Will Yuli Gurriel return to the Astros? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Defacto Astros general manager Jeff Bagwell was asked point-blank at the team’s annual Fanfest at Minute Maid Park over the weekend:

Do the Astros intend to sign free agent first baseman Yuli Gurriel for another World Series run in 2023? And if the answer is yes … what’s the holdup?

Bagwell, typically a straight shooter, said, “There's nobody that loves Yuli more than us, myself, Jim (Crane), Dusty (Baker), everybody. It's just trying to find the right fit for the club. He's a huge part of our success here. We'll continue to monitor that situation."

Do the Astros really love Gurriel, or do they love him not?

If Bagwell was speaking truth, and everybody in Astros management is aboard the Gurriel love train, why isn’t Gurriel a done deal so fans can stop worrying?

What does that mean, the Astros are trying to find the “right fit for the club?” Seriously? Here’s where Gurriel fits in: first base, second base, third base, DH, and team leader.

More important than his contribution on the diamond, Gurriel is a symbol of Astros excellence, a key member of this close-knit family of players so beloved in Houston.

Yes, Gurriel is 38 years old and coming off a disastrous 2022 season in which he batted a woeful, power outage .242. It was a major dropoff from 2021, when Gurriel won the American League batting title with a .319 average.

Numbers don’t reflect Gurriel’s value to this team. He arrived in Houston from Cuba in 2016. One year later, he took over as the Astros everyday first baseman. The Astros won the World Series that year and began six seasons of unprecedented success never before witnessed in Houston – two World Series championships, four American League pennants, and five AL West titles. Gurriel was in the middle of every postseason run – driving in key runs and turning errant throws from Astros infielders into outs at first base.

Current MLB rosters allow for 26 players. The Astros can’t find a spot for arguably one of Houston’s favorite athletes of all time? With the best hair (no argument there).

Yes, the Astros have promising young players who need to see the field to develop. But the Astros lineup is loaded with veterans so it’s not like there’s much room for rookies, anyway. The Astros could keep Gurriel and trade a prospect for experienced help behind the plate.

Two years ago, I went to a sports collectors show in Houston. There were dozens of pro athletes, including several Astros, scribbling autographs. The longest line led to Yuli Gurriel.

Recent stories from the Hot Stove League have Gurriel headed to the Miami Marlins. He’s not ready to spend his baseball golden years in Florida. Before we allow a Houston treasure loose, c’mon Astros, prove that your professed love for Gurriel is real. Keep La Pina where he belongs.

Editor's note: The Marlins interest in Yuli Gurriel seems to have cooled off, per Jon Heyman. The Twins or Astros could have interest.

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