Tigers take first step toward beefing up rotation, sign RHP José Ureña

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – National League hitters are probably as excited about this signing as the Tigers are.

On Wednesday night, the Tigers made their first significant free agent signing of the winter, agreeing to terms with former Miami Marlins right-hander José Ureña on a one-year deal worth $3.25 million, pending the passing of the medicals.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena delivers during the first inning of a baseball gam against the New York Yankees, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the deal also includes incentives that could pay him an additional $250,000 based on how many starts he makes in 2021. 

The Tigers are banking on a bounce-back.

Ureña, 29, is coming off a pair of rough seasons and twice has led the National League in hit batsmen (thus the rejoicing among N.L. hitters). But for two seasons, on some mediocre Marlins ballclubs, Ureña was a top-of-the-rotation workhorse.

In 2017, he went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 169.2 innings. In 2018, he was 9-12 with a 3.98 ERA in 174 innings. He was the Marlins opening day starter in 2019, but he lost more than two months with a back strain. When he returned, the Marlins used him as their closer and he recorded three saves.

He was back in the starting rotation last season but was limited to five starts by a fractured bone in his forearm.

When he’s right, he features a hard sinker (95-96 mph) and four-seam fastball, with a slider and hard change-up (90 mph). He’s more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher, very low spin rates on his pitches, with low swing-and-miss and strikeout rates.

But in 2017 and 2018, he induced a lot of soft contact (average exit velocity on balls put in play was 87 mph) and a lot of ground balls (50 percent).

The Tigers will likely pencil Ureña into the rotation along with Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer. Rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal will be fighting for a rotation spot, but with their innings likely to be severely limited, they could start the season at Triple-A Toledo.

The Tigers have not had great luck in the recent past with pitchers with poor medical histories. In 2019, they got just nine starts out of free agent signees Tyson Ross and Matt Moore. Last year, they got just four out of Ivan Nova. 

To make room for Ureña on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated catcher Eric Haase for assignment.