Column: Julio Urías proved he can be the Dodgers’ ace; now they must pay him like one

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías delivers during Game 1 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres on Oct. 11.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Don’t mistake his humility for weakness. Don’t confuse his silence for contentment.

Julio Urías has pride.

Listen to him carefully. It’s there.

“I always try to give respect to whomever deserves it,” Urías said in Spanish. “I try to do my thing and hopefully they also carry their part, no?”

He was talking about the Dodgers and how this could be his final season with them. He will be a free agent next winter.


The Dodgers haven’t always treated the 26-year-old the way teams typically treat pitchers of his stature, and now the only way they can show him the respect he craves might be to pay him more than owner Mark Walter and the front office would like.

After too many years and countless appeals by fans, the Dodgers are finally retiring prolific pitcher Fernando Valenzuela’s jersey number this season.

Feb. 4, 2023

Urías was clearly the Dodgers’ top pitcher last year, but the team waited until five days after its regular-season finale to name him the Game 1 starter for its National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres.

The year before that, when Urías won 20 games in the regular season, the Dodgers deployed him as a reliever in two of his four playoff appearances.

Urías has never complained about how the Dodgers have used him and manager Dave Roberts basically called him the staff ace over the weekend, but enough minor slights have piled up over the years to raise questions about how much the franchise values him.

What Urías means to the Dodgers should be obvious, and if they don’t realize what they have in him, it’s just another example of them being so smart to the point of being stupid.

Urías was the NL leader in earned-run average last year. His 37 wins over the previous two seasons are the most in baseball.


As a Mexican pitcher in Los Angeles, he also provides the Dodgers with an invaluable link to the community, an extension of Fernando Valenzuela’s legacy to which they paid tribute by announcing the No. 34 jersey would be retired.

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías walks to the mound during a game in August.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

David Vassegh, who hosts the postgame talk show on the Dodgers’ flagship radio station, was the co-emcee of the team’s FanFest on Saturday. Tasked with maintaining a festive atmosphere at Dodger Stadium, Vassegh did what people often do to liven up crowds: He stated an opinion that he knew was shared by virtually the entire audience.

With Urías on the main stage next to him, Vassegh called out, “We want Julio a Dodger for life, don’t we?”

The rhetorical question elicited the response Vassegh anticipated, the ballpark suddenly sounding as if Urías had struck out a batter with two outs and the bases loaded.

The fans’ wishes alone won’t keep him here, of course.

His complicated relationship with the Dodgers has likely diminished the possibility of him accepting a hometown discount.


Julio Urías’ family gathers around a TV in Culiacán every time he pitches. They pray for the Dodgers ace who overcame eye surgeries to become a star.

He certainly will have options on the open market, his age making him particularly attractive. His agent, Scott Boras, pointed to how Max Scherzer was 30 when he signed a seven-year, $210-million contract with the Washington Nationals in 2015. Another one of Boras’ clients, Stephen Strasburg, was 31 when he inked a seven-year, $245-million deal after the 2019 season, also with the Nationals.

A former teenage prodigy who broke into the major leagues at 19, Urías will be 27 next winter.

“He offers a team the utter prime of his career,” Boras said.

Six pitchers have signed deals worth more than $200 million. Each of them had already registered more than 1,200 innings between the regular season and the playoffs, and that includes Clayton Kershaw, who landed a $215-million contract after just five-plus years of major league service.

Urías has only 658 innings to his name.

The Dodgers have something to do with that, as their cautious approach with him early in his career limited the mileage on his arm. Why shouldn’t they be the team that takes advantage of that?

Urías maintained his usual soft-spoken demeanor Saturday when answering questions about his future.

“Right now, I’m focused on playing,” he said. “My representatives and [the team] will have their time to talk, but right now, I’m 100% focused on the field.”


Jaime Jarrín, Julio Urías, Dave Roberts and Max Muncy praise the Dodgers’ decision to recognize the impact Fernando Valenzuela had on the franchise.

Feb. 4, 2023

He restated how much he enjoys playing in front of heavily Mexican and Mexican American crowds at Dodger Stadium, but when asked if he has thought about how this could be his last season in Los Angeles, he replied, “That’s not something you can hide. Obviously, I’ll try to maximize my focus on baseball, and later, what has to happen will happen.”

The Dodgers shouldn’t have to think about what that is, regardless of whether they plan to be a part of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes next winter. They can afford both players. There isn’t another player in baseball who is more perfectly suited to play for a particular team than Urías is for the Dodgers.

Urías sounds as if he knows what he’s worth, but does the front office? The answer will have significant ramifications for the Dodgers, both on the field and off.