Detroit Tigers Sign Free Agent Pitcher José Ureña

JUPITER, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Pitcher José Ureña is the newest member of the Detroit Tigers.

News broke early Wednesday evening that José Ureña was signing a deal to pitch for the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

FanSided’s own Robert Murray followed with the financials, stating it’s a one-year, $3.25 million deal, and Heyman added a final note, pointing out Ureña gets an extra $50K for making 15 starts, and can make up to $3.5 million if he starts 27 games.

Signing José Ureña certainly isn’t a huge splash for the Detroit Tigers, but it’s a welcome bit of news in an otherwise quiet offseason. It definitely qualifies as a bigger story than selecting Akil Baddoo in the Rule 5 Draft, or signing pitcher Ian Krol and catcher Dustin Garneau to minor-league contracts.

But who is José Ureña and what does he bring to the Tigers? Let’s find out.

Who is José Ureña?

The Florida Marlins signed José Ureña out of the Dominican Republic back in 2008, about two months before his 18th birthday. He spent two years in rookie ball, but then made steady progress through the Marlins’ minor-league system, moving one level at a time until he finally made the majors in 2015.

José Ureña made his big-league debut against the Braves on April 14, 2015, throwing a scoreless inning out of the bullpen. He made his first MLB start six weeks later, giving up 10 hits and 5 runs over 4.1 innings in a loss to the Pirates. Ureña then earned his first win on June 12, 2015 thanks to 6.2 innings of one-run ball against the Rockies.

For the next two seasons José Ureña moved back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, posting a combined 5.76 ERA. But he joined the rotation for good in 2017 and had much more success, going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA (though his 5.20 FIP suggests he had a lot of luck). He was named Miami’s opening day starter in 2018 and he had another solid year, finishing with a 9-12 record, a 3.98 ERA, and a very respectable 4.17 FIP.

Ureña did find some trouble in 2018, though, first with a trip to the injured list with a shoulder impingement, and then when he was suspended for six games for hitting Ronald Acuña Jr. on the first pitch of his August 15th start.

In fairness to José Ureña, he did lead all of baseball in hit batters in both 2017 and 2018, but Acuña had homered in his five previous games, so it wasn’t too surprising the benches then cleared for some light bickering.

Things started going sideways for Ureña in 2019. He was Miami’s opening day starter again, but he made just 13 starts before being placed on the 60-day injured list with a herniated disc in his back. He returned as a reliever in September, but he struggled in that role, giving up 10 earned runs in as many innings.

José Ureña missed the first six weeks of the 2020 season after testing positive for Covid-19. He struggled through his first four starts, and then in his fifth game he was hit by a line drive and fractured his forearm, ending his season just before the playoffs began.

Ureña was expected to make about $4 million in arbitration, and the Marlins decided that was too much, so they non-tendered him.

José Ureña Scouting Report

José Ureña was never a top-100 prospect, but he did spend time in the Marlins Top 10 lists for both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Back in 2014 Pipeline had this to say:

"The Dominican right-hander has an above-average fastball that can touch the mid 90s, and he combines it with a solid changeup that has improved considerably. Urena’s breaking ball is a combination of a slider and a curve, and it needs to be refined for it to become a consistent weapon in his arsenal."

That scouting report remains fairly accurate to this day. Ureña uses an unorthodox delivery in which he separates the ball from his glove very early, but he shows plus arm strength.

His sinker sits in the mid-90s and will touch 98 with well above-average horizontal movement thanks to his low-3/4 arm slot, and his low-90s changeup will flash as a plus offering with nasty late dive. Unfortunately, his mid-80s slider remains inconsistent. It will occasionally flash as a solid pitch, but it’s usually a below-average offering.

Ureña has decent enough control, with a career walk rate of 8.1%, but his command is below average, which often leads to his pitches catching too much of the plate. His hard-hit rate (exit velocity over 95 mph) since 2018 is in the 18th percentile (not good), and throughout his career left-handed hitters own a .812 OPS against him, compared to a .698 OPS against right-handed batters.

How José Ureña Fits on the Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers desperately need pitchers who can help eat innings in 2021, and José Ureña theoretically helps in that area. He has a good pitcher’s build and a live arm, but he has thrown just 108 innings over the past two seasons, so he may not be the true horse they need.

That said, Ureña is an intriguing addition. He’s not young, but 29 certainly isn’t old for a pitcher (he’s one year older than Spencer Turnbull), and you can’t teach his kind of arm strength.

He really only throws hard stuff, and his lack of a quality breaking ball and subpar command probably limit his ceiling. But perhaps Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves (who was Ureña’s pitching coach in Miami for three years) can work a little magic, convince Ureña to throw his changeup more, and help him return to form as a solid #4 starter.