Lourdes Gurriel Jr. fit with Diamondbacks, relationships in clubhouse drove return

Dec 23, 2023, 10:40 AM | Updated: 12:26 pm

Gabriel Moreno #14 and Lourdes Gurriel Jr....

Gabriel Moreno #14 and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #12 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after Moreno hit a home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during Game Three of the Division Series at Chase Field on October 11, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks youngsters Gabriel Moreno, Luis Frias and Geraldo Perdomo opened their phones to a simple message from a veteran leader: “You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

Outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. entered the free agent market this offseason and concluded his place was back in Arizona with a club he grew close with over the past calendar year. On Dec. 23, 2022, he and Moreno were traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Diamondbacks, and nearly one year later, the D-backs announced he agreed to a three-year deal on Friday worth a reported $42 million.

“I always have my priorities in line: First and foremost, my family is comfortable here in the city, the organization. Secondly, if I’m comfortable with the team, the club, the organization, the players and so forth,” Gurriel said led to his return via team Spanish interpreter Alex Arpiza on Friday. “So with all that in mind, that was first and foremost to be able to secure that.”

Reaching the World Series and coming up three games short of a ring certainly helped Arizona’s case to bring him back — a priority for the organization looking for a left fielder and right-handed bat — as did the tightness of a clubhouse that rallied behind each other to take down the Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies. Gurriel was motivated by Arizona falling three games short of a championship to the Rangers.

He described his teammates as respectful as his free agency played out, but he appreciated all the messages coming in once he had agreed to run it back with them.

“Once the news started spreading that I was coming back, a lot of players and teammates reached out to me, so just those relationships, that bond we formed, it had a big impact on me coming back,” Gurriel said.

“Lourdes is unbelievable in the clubhouse,” D-backs starter Zac Gallen told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Friday. “Great guy, worked hard. From a pitcher standpoint, he was maybe undervalued in terms of the defensive side of it, just working with (Dave McKay) and whatnot and getting his defensive side up to standard has been awesome to watch.”

Lourdes Gurriel, Gabriel Moreno brothers in Diamondbacks clubhouse

A common sight in the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse during the 2023 season was Moreno and Gurriel laughing about something.

Even this winter, when Moreno dyed his hair green Gurriel naturally made fun of him.

“I think I was one of the first ones that he sent a photo to of what he had just done, and I kind of teased him saying ‘Hey, what are you copying me?'” Gurriel said. “But Gabi mentioned, ‘Hey, you’re purple, I’m green.'”

Gurriel said he may have to stick with purple now, although based on recent Instagram posts, it appears Moreno has followed suit with purple hair.

The 23-year old Moreno from Venezuela and 30-year-old Gurriel from Cuba were connected through the offseason trade right before Christmas. They didn’t cross paths much with the Blue Jays until the 2022 season when Moreno made his MLB debut, and Toronto shipped them together to Arizona for outfielder Daulton Varsho.

Gurriel texted his young teammate to pack up because they’re going together.

“Very special relationship, he’s like a little brother to me,” Gurriel said during the postseason. “A blessing to be traded with him as opposed to being traded separately and helped each other out the whole process.”

“It also goes back to when we both got traded, we exchanged text messages and he joked with me and said, ‘Pack your bags, we’re going together,'” Moreno said. “We’ve had a great relationship for a while now.”

Moreno said during the playoffs he understood he was joining a young team and felt like he would be comfortable in that environment, but a familiar face helped. It helps to receive advice from Gurriel’s father, Cuban baseball legend Lourdes Gurriel, and brother, World Series champion Yuli Gurriel.

The trade resulted in Arizona finding its starting catcher for the foreseeable future with team control through 2029, although Gurriel’s future was far less certain with the organization until this week. He is guaranteed two seasons with an opt-out option before Year 3. There is also a club option for 2027.

“I’m going to venture to say (Gurriel) probably helped Gabi get really comfortable,” Gallen said. “Gabby being a young guy and tasking him with a lot. They come over from Toronto and have some familiarity with each other. And I think that helped them out a lot.”

Hazen said during the playoffs he felt the trade was a win-win considering Varsho’s defensive ability and the power he has shown. Varsho broke out in 2022 with 27 home runs, and the D-backs plucked from their surplus of left-handed outfielders.

The move by Hazen and his staff paid dividends in Year 1 with Moreno and Gurriel sticking as starters when healthy. Gurriel made the NL All-Star team after a heroic first two months and heated up down the stretch as the D-backs pushed for a postseason spot. Moreno won a Gold Glove and was one of the best hitters on the team in the final month of the regular season with a couple monumental postseason hits. He delivered the go-ahead RBI knock in Game 4 against the Phillies in the NLCS.

Looking at rWAR, Moreno provided 4.3, Gurriel 3.0 and Varsho 3.9 for Toronto. Gurriel and Moreno were both better than average hitters with a 108 and 104 OPS+, respectively, while Varsho was well below at 85.

Hazen said he believes they are moving into the prime of Gurriel’s offensive career after his career-high 24 homers last year.

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