Detroit Tigers sign RHP Jose Urena to one-year, $3.25 million deal

Ryan Ford Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers’ 2021 rotation continues to take shape as the team added a veteran starter in right-hander Jose Urena on a one-year, $3.25 million deal.

A source with knowledge of the deal confirmed the signing to the Free Press on Wednesday, and the Tigers later announced the move.

Urena was non-tendered by the Miami Marlins earlier this month after six seasons in the big leagues and five starts in 2020.

“Once José became available, we had him identified as a player that could come in and help our ballclub win games,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a released statement. “We’re excited to add his experience pitching at a high level, and know he’ll contribute to our young staff in significant ways. José has a great ability to navigate a lineup and limit damage, while keeping his team in the game, which is exactly the stability we’re looking for heading into the 2021 season.”

His 2020 in Miami was rough, featuring a 5.40 ERA with 15 strikeouts and 13 walks in 23⅓ innings. Urena pitched last season on a $3.75 million deal. He missed the first six weeks of the season with COVID-19 before making his season debut in early September. A comebacker off his right forearm on Sept. 27 ended his season prior to the Marlins' playoff appearance, as the righty was diagnosed with a non-displaced ulna fracture. 

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Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena pitches against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 22, 2020 in Cumberland, Ga.

The 29-year-old has a career ERA of 4.60 over 597 innings, with a 1.340 WHIP and 32-46 record. His best season came in 2017, when he went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA, 113 strikeouts and 64 walks in 169⅔ innings. The Dominican Republic native followed that with 130 strikeouts and 51 walks in 174 innings in 2018, with a 3.98 ERA. Urena has often struggled with his control, however. He led the majors with 14 hit batsmen in 2017 and led the National League with 12 in 2018.

The Tigers' rotation is expected to feature left-hander Matthew Boyd and right-hander Spencer Turnbull at the top, with right-hander Michael Fulmer also receiving starts. The addition of Urena gives the Tigers flexibility with the workload for prized prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, who made their debuts in 2020. The young duo combined for 60⅓ innings in 2020 and will likely be on an innings limit for 2021.

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The team's logjam of young pitching cleared up slightly this month with the announcement that former first-round pick Alex Faedo would undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2021, but prized prospect Matt Manning is also expected to push for major-league innings in 2021. 

The Tigers will also have left-handers Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander to work out of the bullpen and take spot starts.

Urena has experience in the bullpen, with 44 career relief appearances. He has been more effective as a starter, however, with a 4.42 ERA in 98 starts, compared to a 6.20 ERA in relief. 

The deal was first reported by MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The contract reportedly features $50,000 in incentives for every three starts beyond 14.

Catcher Eric Haase (Dearborn Divine Child) was designated for assignment to make room for Urena on the Tigers' 40-man roster.