The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the 2023 season with one of their most impactful players set to become a free agent after the season. Left-handed ace Julio Urias is now about six months away from hitting the open market. Urias has been a stalwart of the LA staff over the past three seasons, appearing in 74 games, 73 of which were starts and pitching to a 159 ERA+. He’s won 40 games over that span and finished in the top seven of Cy Young Award voting the past two seasons. The Dodgers shouldn’t let Urias walk in free agency, but how much would he cost if re-signed by the organization?
Contract comp #1: David Price 7 years, $217 million going into 2016 season
The largest contract ever given to a left-handed pitcher, Price signed this heading into his age-30 season, Urias though will be 27 on Opening Day of his new deal. What Price had going for him at the time of signing was he was a former Cy Young Award winner, which teams covet. Additionally, in 2015 Price was coming off a second-place Cy Young finish with a 164 ERA+, striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings. At the time of signing Price was viewed as one of the best starters in the game of baseball, had been traded twice in the prior two seasons and at the time was arguably the best pitcher to ever become a free agent.
Contract comp #2: Stephen Strasburg 7 years, $245 million going into 2020 season
When Strasburg signed this deal, it was the largest contract ever handed out to a pitcher in MLB history. Strasburg, 31 at the time of signing, was coming off of a perfect storm season. He had just finished in fifth place for the Cy Young, his second top-5 finish in three years. Strasburg had also just won the World Series MVP delivering the Nationals their first title in franchise history. He pitched 14 ⅓ innings against the Houston Astros striking out 14 and winning both games he started. Washington also had Anthony Rendon become a free agent that offseason but the organization, and most importantly owner Ted Lerner decided Strasburg was who they should sign. The deal was surprising at the time and was viewed as an overpay due to the right-hander’s questionable injury history. Strasburg in the first three years of his contract made eight total starts, and opened this season on the injured list.
Contract comp #3: Max Scherzer 3 years, $130 million going into 2022 season
The contract with the largest annual average value ever in MLB history, Scherzer has been arguably the best starter in baseball since the start of the 2013 season. From 2013 to 2021 he started 265 games, pitched to an ERA+ of 149, won three Cy Young Awards and finished in the top three of voting in another three seasons. A contract of this size was given in large part due to New York Mets billionaire owner Steve Cohen wanting Scherzer and doing whatever it took to get him. However, it is still indicative of a potential avenue for Urias. Since Scherzer signed his deal prior to the 2022 season, starters Justin Verlander and Jacob DeGrom have also signed deals with an AAV of $43.3 million and $37 million, respectively.
Projected Urías contract
I think Urías winds up signing a deal for around eight years and $250 million, assuming he repeats the performance of his prior three seasons. Traditionally teams have not handed out pitcher contracts of more than five years in free agency. Since 2019 only Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Carlos Rodon have received six-plus year deals on the open market.
Although, we saw a large-scale change of approach for teams last offseason. There were two 11-year deals in addition to three other deals ranging from 7-9 years. There were only six such contracts handed out in free agency for the seven years the prior three offseasons. Clubs are doing this in order to potentially keep luxury tax numbers lower, keeping more money in their pockets. So, with teams suddenly handing out longer deals paired with Urias’ age at signing we certainly could see this deal creep into the nine-year $275-million range. However, I don’t think it’s overly likely a team will give him a deal of that length because pitchers to this point have been treated differently.
An 8-year, $250-million deal would give Urias the second-largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, whilst also giving him the ninth-highest average annual value ever given to one.
A contract type to keep an eye on though is the Scherzer deal. The Dodgers have preferred to do shorter-term deals in recent memory, like their reported pursuit of Bryce Harper four years ago. A three-year, $120-million deal would give the Dodgers protection if Urias gets hurt or have his performance slip. Urias also benefits from a deal of this structure, with $120 million guaranteed and a shot at becoming a free agent again before his age-30 season. If Urias continues to dominate throughout the course of a short-term deal, he would likely be setting himself up for another massive contract giving him a shot to earn significantly more than what he’d make from a long term deal this upcoming off-season.