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John Dewan's Stat of the Week

Gio Urshela is a Better Signing Than You Think

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Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

The biggest defensive hole in MLB team infields last season was third base for the Tigers. Detroit tried 9 players at that position and those players combined for -22 Defensive Runs Saved. Not only did the Tigers rank last in MLB in Runs Saved by their third basemen, they also ranked 26th in Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Average at the position.

Tigers general manager Scott Harris chipped away at his team’s roster construction all winter. He traded for Mark Canha to give the team a bat that could control the strike zone and improve the offense’s production. And he added a pair of veteran arms for the starting rotation in Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty.

These additions supplement a young core that could have 2 prime prospects— center fielder Parker Meadows and infielder Colt Keith— as everyday players.

Harris didn’t do much about third base until Thursday when the Tigers signed Gio Urshela to a one-year contract. If the Tigers wanted to be really ambitious there, they could have pursued free agent Matt Chapman on a long-term deal, but for the short term, Urshela is a good fit.

If fully recovered from the pelvis injury that limited him to 62 games last season, Urshela, an 8-year veteran, will be a massive upgrade at the hot corner for whatever number of games he plays in 2024. He totaled 6 Defensive Runs Saved in limited action at third base last season and 4 Runs Saved there in 2022. He's had only one bad stretch there, in 2021 when he totaled -4 Runs Saved for the Yankees.

Urshela had a .703 OPS in those 62 games last season. That doesn’t sound impressive, but that would also be a big upgrade. Tigers third basemen combined for a .624 OPS last season, 3rd-worst in MLB.

There is risk with the 32-year-old Urshela, but it’s inexpensive risk. He signed for a base salary of $1.5 million. He may just play in a platoon role. But even if he plays part time, the Tigers improving to 0 Runs Saved and a .700 OPS at third base this season as a result of his production would be noticeable. If Urshela could reach his past peak (he’s twice been a 3-bWAR player), the change would be significant.

This signing isn’t by itself going to win a division title. But it potentially makes a big hole on the team look much more respectable. Winning championships isn’t just about signing star players. It’s about making sure you have a roster of players that aren’t costing you potential wins. In an AL Central where 85 to 90 wins may be enough to win the division, a move like signing Urshela looks like a pretty smart one.

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