SEATTLE -- The reported signing of free-agent Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel and the impending callup of top prospect Alex Bregman will add a pair of potentially potent bats to the Astros' lineup, while giving manager A.J. Hinch the challenge of fitting them into the lineup.The signing of the 32-year-old Gurriel
SEATTLE -- The reported signing of free-agent Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel and the impending callup of top prospect Alex Bregman will add a pair of potentially potent bats to the Astros' lineup, while giving manager A.J. Hinch the challenge of fitting them into the lineup.
The signing of the 32-year-old Gurriel to a five-year, $47.5 million deal, which was made official on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, is a deal that was made as much about the next few seasons as it was about the second half of 2016.
Gurriel, who defected from Cuba in February with his brother, can play second base and third base, and projects to hit .285 with 15-18 home runs and 85 RBIs over a full season in the big leagues. He's raw defensively, but he'll likely see some time in left field, as well.
The signing has no impact on Bregman, who figures to be called up within the next month or so. He was hitting .307 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs though his first 71 combined games at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno. He's a shortstop who can play third base, but don't be surprised to see him in left field at some point, as well.
Hinch didn't want to address the Gurriel signing prior to Friday's game at Safeco Field, but did say the team is always looking to get better.
"I will say we worked him out, had interest in him, been all over the background check and things like that," he said. "We'll have to wait until an official announcement before we can talk about it."
Gurriel and Bregman will give Hinch versatility, and the club will find a place to put them if they can hit like their track records suggest they might be able to in the big leagues. Gurriel figures to need some time in the Minors before joining the Astros, and he'll have to be added to the 40-man roster on Saturday considering he's being signed to a Major League deal.
The designated hitter looms large for both Gurriel and Bregman. They could both get plenty of at-bats at DH. Plus, Gurriel or Bregman could play shortstop while Carlos Correa slides to DH on occasion, and Gurriel could play second while José Altuve moves to DH sometimes, as well.
If one of them starts in left field, the other could start at third base, while Luis Valbuena -- who's second on the club in OPS -- could be moved to first base. The Astros haven't gotten much production this year at DH, where Evan Gattis has gotten most of the ABs. Entering Friday, the DH spot had a .178 batting average and .598 OPS for the Astros.
Valbuena could solve the production problem at first base, as well. Astros first basemen hit the All-Star break hitting .225 with a .687 OPS. A.J. Reed, who was called up June 25 to make his Major League debut, was hitting just .143 with a pair of homers entering Friday.
From May 4 through the All-Star break, Valbuena was hitting .300 with a .389 on-base percentage, 12 homers and 33 RBIs, so the Astros will want to keep his bat in the lineup. He's appeared in 37 games at first base in his career, including six this year, so he's equipped to move to first to make room for Gurriel or Bregman.
Of course, Gurriel and Bregman aren't with the big league club just yet and neither has stepped on a Major League field, so there are plenty of unknowns. But they could be wind up being key pieces down the stretch for an Astros team that has its eye on a division title.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.