Tigers sign Gio Urshela, who could fill a need at third base 

LAKELAND, Fla. — Turns out the Tigers were willing to bring in an outside bat at third base after all.

Detroit agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with infielder Gio Urshela on Thursday, a team source confirmed to The Athletic.

Urshela fills an obvious need for the Tigers: an experienced right-handed hitter who can play third base and also move around the infield. Such a need was apparent all offseason and became more clear in the early days of spring training.

Urshela makes obvious sense in the Tigers’ platoon-heavy lineup. The right-handed batter is a career .290 hitter against left-handed pitching and hit .373 in 51 at-bats against lefties last season. He has relatively low walk rates (4.4 percent last year) but also has plus contact skills.

Urshela, 32, is coming off a year in which he hit .299 but was worth only 0.4 fWAR in 62 games with the Angels. He missed most of the season with a fractured pelvis but hit .285 with 13 home runs and was worth 2.4 fWAR in 2022. He has been a good defender at third base throughout his career and was worth plus-6 defensive runs saved at the hot corner last season. He also has experience playing shortstop, second base and first base.

Prior to signing Urshela, Matt Vierling was projected to start at third for the Tigers, perhaps sharing the role with Andy Ibáñez and left-handed hitter Zach McKinstry.

Signing Urshela could allow the Tigers to use Vierling in a more versatile role, including seeing time in center field. It’s a signing that could have ripple effects across the roster, from Vierling providing insurance for rookie Parker Meadows in center to the way Ibáñez and McKinstry are used.

Based on the way manager A.J. Hinch handled the roster last year, when the Tigers used pinch hitters more than all but four other teams, it is possible to envision Urshela (third base), Ibáñez (second base) and Vierling (center field) all starting against left-handed pitching, with McKinstry, Colt Keith and Meadows then available to pinch hit. The move could also make the path to a roster spot even more difficult for right-handed outfield prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy and infielder Ryan Kreidler.

Although president of baseball operations Scott Harris had seemingly been hesitant to seek more veteran support, a one-year deal with Urshela should provide more stability at third base while prospect Jace Jung (who has already been told he won’t be on the Opening Day roster) polishes his skills in the minor leagues.

“If you look around the diamond, there aren’t a ton of at-bats available for another everyday type,” Harris said last week. “So we felt like there was room for one (veteran outfielder Mark Canha), and then the rest of the additions would be sort of supplementary to the everyday lineup.”

Urshela may be used in a multitude of ways, but this signing adds needed support to Detroit’s infield.

(Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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