Did Tigers make a costly mistake in non-tendering Spencer Turnbull?

The Tigers could use this version of Spencer Turnbull right about now. Especially when compared to the expensive offseason acquisition they made instead.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Spencer Turnbull
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Spencer Turnbull / Rich Storry/GettyImages

Spencer Turnbull's Detroit Tigers' career began all the way back in 2014 when the right-hander was drafted with the 63rd overall pick. The former Alabama standout was supposed to cruise through the Tigers' minor league system and become a key contributor in Detroit's starting rotation.

But the best-laid plans can oftentimes go up in smoke, and that's exactly what happened to Turnbull. After leading the league in losses and hit batsmen during his first full major league season, Turnbull put up solid numbers during the abbreviated 2020 season and was one of Detroit's best pitchers in 2021 while posting a 2.88 ERA. He even threw just the eighth no-hitter in Tigers history that year.

But a forearm strain in 2021, followed a by injury setback, and eventually Tommy John surgery derailed Turnbull's career with the Tigers. The former second-round pick missed all 2022, and his numbers last season weren't enough to justify keeping him on the 40-man roster. Detroit jettisoned Turnbull last winter, non-tendering the 31-year-old and allowing him to enter free agency.

Did Tigers make a mistake in non-tendering Spencer Turnbull?

Turnbull is out to prove that the Tigers made a massive mistake, and has pitched exceedingly well in 2024. The Philadelphia Phillies signed Turnbull to a modest one-year, $2 million contract this offseason, and it's been paying massive dividends for Rob Thomson's ball club.

Turnbull is 3-0 on the season with a 2.65 ERA in a hybrid role for the Phillies. The righty owns a 3.84 FIP and has 58 punch outs in 54.1 innings of work this season. Turnbull has appeared in 17 games for Philadelphia, including seven starts.

Those numbers wouldn't look too bad in Detroit right about now. While Tarik Skubal and Jack Flaherty are putting up great stats, having an arm to supplement the up-and-down season from Casey Mize or the awful showing from Kenta Maeda would certainly be something of value.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Turnbull was expected to take home about $2.4 million through arbitration this past winter — a number that Detroit did not feel comfortable paying. That would appear to be a mistake based on Turnbull's stat line this summer and would have been a bargain compared to Maeda's two-year, $24 million deal.

Chalk this one up to yet another blunder on the part of the Tigers' front office. As for Turnbull, he's now part of World Series contender in Philadelphia.

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