At the start of the 2023 season, the top names in postseason free agency were neither Yoshinobu Yamamoto nor Blake Snell. With the exception of Shohei Ohtani, who can both pitch and hit, there was little doubt that the biggest name was Julio Urias, 28.
He had all the makings of a “jackpot. First, his skill was obvious. Urias, who grew up being labeled a “prodigy” and touted as the heir apparent to Dodger icon Clayton Kershaw, made his major league debut in 2016 at the age of 20. The Dodgers took it easy on Urias, letting him take his time getting acclimated to the big leagues. A sudden shoulder injury raised some concerns, but Urias bounced back successfully and began pitching like a full-fledged starting ace in 2020.
Urias burst onto the scene in 2020, going 3-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 11 games in a shortened season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and then exploded with potential the following year, going 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in 32 starts and 185⅔ innings. He finished seventh in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
In 2022, he was even better. He went 17-7 with a 2.16 ERA in 175 innings over 31 games, leading the National League in ERA, finishing third in Cy Young voting, and 14th in MVP voting. He was set to become a free agent after the 2023 season. He’ll be 28 in 2024. There was a lot of optimism that he could get a 7+ year deal, totaling $200 million.
His 2023 season wasn’t great. His velocity dropped a bit early in the season, and his command was shaky. In 21 starts, he went 11-8 with a 4.60 ERA. Still, no one vomited on Urias’ market value. He was still the biggest name in baseball. But then a single, crucial event happened, and Urias’ career was ruined. Not only did he fall from the top of the starting free agent power rankings, but he disappeared from the list altogether.
On September 4, 2023, Urias was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, and the entire league took notice. He allegedly assaulted a woman who was accompanying him to a game at BMO Stadium in downtown Los Angeles. Urias was quickly arrested and released on $50,000 bail, but the aftermath was devastating. Major League Baseball is a very sensitive organization when it comes to domestic violence, violence against women, and violence against children. On September 7, Major League Baseball immediately placed Urias on administrative leave, blocking his path to play. His former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, could only watch on.
This isn’t the first time Urias’ career has been marked by the word “domestic violence”. In 2019, he was suspended for 20 games for domestic violence. In any country, recidivism is punished severely by the law and the system. As a result, Urias has since disappeared from the scene and is now a player who isn”t even mentioned.
In the meantime, other players who were less highly regarded than Urias hit the jackpot. Aaron Nola, 31, who had a 3.72 career ERA in the majors and a 4.46 ERA in 32 games last year, signed a seven-year, $172 million deal. The inflation in the pitching market, which was initially expected to be in the low $200 million range, culminated in Yoshinobu Yamamoto signing a 12-year, $325 million deal with the Dodgers.
The Urias case went through the police and then to prosecutors late last year. While he may be able to avoid justice, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to avoid a league-wide suspension now that the violence has been documented. Even if he is reinstated, he could miss much or all of the 2024 season. Obviously, no major league team is going to contact him. He’s not available right now, and he doesn’t need the negative publicity.
There’s no doubt that Urias would have gotten at least $200 million in this market if he had finished the season healthy and without these issues, regardless of his performance. In the current market, he’s more likely to be in the mid- to late-$200 million range than in the high $200 million range. His inability to control his temper, and perhaps his character issues, are threatening his career. With his return to the major leagues now in doubt, free agency is no longer an option.