The Detroit Tigers signed right-handed starting pitcher José Ureña to a one-year contract in a deal that was announced by the team on Wednesday evening. Ureña was non-tendered by the Miami Marlins and became a free agent on December 2nd. The reported value of the agreement is $3.25 million, per Robert Murray of the FanSided network.
Prior to being let go, the 29-year-old pitcher has spent his entire pro career with the Marlins. He made his debut in 2015, and after two partial seasons in the majors, he established himself in the Miami rotation in 2017. Never a high performer, the Marlins continued to give him opportunities both due to his promising stuff and a lack of quality in-house depth at the position.
The 2020 season was close to a worst-case scenario for Ureña. He had spent a long stretch of the 2019 season sidelined by a herniated disc and pitched in relief upon his return. The 2020 season was supposed to be his get-right opportunity, but he pitched only 23.1 innings for Miami while recording nearly as many walks as strikeouts. To make things worse, in the final game of the season, he was struck in the forearm with a line drive and suffered a non-displaced fracture to his right ulna.
The reporting surrounding this deal indicates the Tigers see him as a bulwark for the starting rotation, similar to the thinking that led to signing Iván Nova last offseason.
Wielding a 96 mile per hour fastball that he can morph into a sinker, Ureña’s arsenal also includes a firm changeup and mid-80s slider. However, Miami was never able to get the most out of his power pitch mix. Although he has never broke the 7.0 K/9 mark in the majors, the Tigers may see him as a low-cost gamble that will, at worst, serve to cushion the roster and protect top prospects from the big leagues if needed.
It seems that, in an effort to play up his velocity, the Marlins altered Ureña’s delivery last offseason. Take a look, as our friends at Fish Stripes pointed out the tweak in a tweet from October:
José Ureña was pitching out of the stretch for the Marlins this season even with nobody on base. Comparing his old delivery (left) vs. his new delivery (right)... pic.twitter.com/lvl83yHJBL— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) October 31, 2020
Of course, by signing Ureña, the Tigers are bringing in more baggage than just his generally mediocre gameplay. He reached national infamy in 2019 after plunking Braves star Ronald Acuña in what appeared to be deliberate retaliation to an earlier home run, promptly inciting a huge amount of social media backlash. However, Ureña claimed it was an accident at the time and has since downplayed its significance.
Ureña’s role on the team isn’t likely to be a big one. He’s served as a swingman for most of his career and will probably fill the same role in Detroit. Even acceptable play from a low-cost free agent would be a low-key win for the Tigers, who have struggled to find genuine bargains under Al Avila’s tenure.
The Tigers pitching last season was untenable, and if Ureña can provide his Steamer-projected 118.0 innings pitched and 0.5 fWAR in 2021, he will be well worth the money. He’s not spectacular, but the team doesn’t need him to be spectacular. Here’s hoping the Tigers have grander plans for the rest of their offseason.