California Team Signs Marlins Free-Agent Pitcher Jose Urena

Jose Urena, the Marlins’ free agent pitcher, was surprised by the timing of his signing.

“I was at the airport about two weeks ago,” he said by phone. “If I had known that it would’ve taken this long, maybe I would’ve been more patient. Maybe I wouldn’t have come here.”

The Marlins signed Urena just before midnight on December 1. By noon December 2 they were playing in Miami rain, losing to the Washington Nationals, 6-1. Two hours later they were playing again in a drizzle as the final out was recorded on a fly ball to right field; the Astros won, 3-2.

“It’s hard,” said Urena of his time with the team. “We had some good times and we had some bad times. It’s frustrating not being able to win games because you don’t have enough pitching.”

The Miami Marlins signed free-agent pitcher Jose Urena to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million. The signing ends the team’s search for a closer, and is the first step in the rebuilding process after the team went 69-93 last year.

Urena will compete with Mat Latos, who has a 5.14 ERA in two seasons since coming over from Cincinnati, and veteran A.J. Ramos, who has a 3.45 ERA for the past two seasons.

Urena was 3-4 with a 2.88 ERA for Triple-A New Orleans last season and struck out 10 batters per start, but opponents hit .330 against him with an .842 OPS. The 25-year-old has a career 8-9 record with a 4.41 ERA in 33 starts over four Minor League seasons. He made three starts for Miami during spring training and threw six scoreless innings before being sent to the minors in April to make room on the roster for rookie outfielder Lewis Brinson, who was called up from Double-A Jacksonville surprisingly late in camp after tearing up the Southern League (.288/.383/.536).

As we’ve said before, the mainstream media and the sports press have gotten so used to working together that they no longer see each other as competitors. They’re part of the same ecosystem, where every day is a carnival.

And so there are reasons why baseball writers would be interested in signing Jose Urena. He’s a left-handed pitcher, which means he can replace a struggling starter. And he brings a little young-player-on-the-rise appeal: he’s still only 25 and after throwing only 116 innings last year, he’s showing signs of developing into something more than a reliever.

The Marlins were desperate enough to sign him with two years left on his contract at $8 million per season. That’s not a big price tag for a team looking to win now; it suggests they think they can turn Urena into something useful down the road.*

The first time I saw Jose Urena pitch, he struck out three batters on nine pitches in the sixth inning of a game between the Marlins and the Rockies. His walk total for the season was zero. The two times I saw him pitch again were against the Chicago Cubs. He did not strike out any batters on nine pitches in any of those games. His walk total for the year was still zero. He is a starter, which means he gets to work with a bullpen full of high-octane relievers, who can throw 100 miles per hour. Apparently he didn’t understand that.

Maybe there is some lesson here about pitchers and walks, or walks and strikeouts, or maybe there isn’t. The point is that if you are a pitcher, you have to be ready for anything, even an invisible fireball from outer space with no chance of making contact: Jose Urena, your new teammate

The Marlins signing Urena is a classic case of a team competing with itself. It’s the kind of move that baseball fans love to hate. What do you get when a team signs two mediocre players to huge contracts? Usually, nothing good. You get a bad team, or a good team that fails to improve.

But this could be different. The Marlins are one of the few teams in baseball with a surplus of money and prospects. The new owners, who purchased the team from Jeffrey Loria, were smart enough to trust the old regime and make no changes at all. But they aren’t stupid enough to let their legacy be the weak-armed and ineffective management of the past year. So they’ve decided to spend their money on salaries instead of prospects.

Their theory is that if they play well, they’ll win. If they don’t — if they lose more than a hundred games — then there is no reason not to cut bait and flip their high-priced “assets” for more prospects or cash. The professional way is always to spend now, not worry about the long term, and hope everyone will like you better when your record improves.*

Ah, but that’s just it: spending now assumes there will be winning records in the future.

Everyone loves a good story, but nobody tells it as well as baseball. On the other hand, it’s not that difficult to write a good baseball story. The trick is to find something interesting and relevant to say, and then to start writing in such a way that the reader keeps on reading. Sports columnists typically fail at this.

Here is how I do it: I pick something that happened recently in baseball, and write about it in an anecdotal way — with lots of names and numbers and other baseball terminology, but without any of the jargon normally used in the sport itself. Then I make sure the story has something to do with the topic of interest — usually money — and ends up being a detective story where I am trying to figure out who was responsible for what and why. Sometimes I do things that are unethical or illegal; sometimes my sources tell me things about people that are embarrassing; but when all is said and done, my column is always worth reading, even if you don’t care about baseball.

In the early days of baseball, managers had a saying: “You can’t win no matter what you do.” Today we have this saying: “You can’t lose no matter what you do.”

Losing is not the end, but winning is not enough. If you lose, you must try to win. If you win, you must try to win more. And then, if your team loses again, you must go back to doing that.

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