Unless they trust minor leaguers such as Matt Krook, Deivi García, or Randy Vásquez, the Yankees will probably need to add at least one more starter at some point this year, whether it is via trade or free agency. Even if the team is currently touting the company line that Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt will fill the hole left by Frankie Montas internally, the fact is that injuries can and will continue to happen. Odds are, someone else will go down in the coming months, and the Yankees will have to make some decisions.
Pitching depth is always needed, so calling the Detroit Tigers and asking about Spencer Turnbull’s availability wouldn’t hurt.
Turnbull is no star, but he has a career 4.25 ERA and 3.63 FIP while pitching on a bad team, and was having a bit of a breakout when he got hurt in 2021. He has a couple of arbitration seasons remaining, and while he had his Tommy John surgery in late 2021, he is throwing bullpens and ready to go, fully cleared for spring training.
The Tigers’ offense has several holes in their lineup and the Yankees’ system is strong on position players. Detroit, on the other hand, has enough pitching depth to absorb the blow of losing a player that only has two seasons of team control remaining. They have Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Joey Wentz, Alex Faedo, Eduardo Rodríguez, Matt Manning, Michael Lorenzen, and others, and while some of them are currently hurt, most are healthy.
Turnbull is 30 and was enjoying an excellent 2021 when he went down with his elbow injury. In nine starts, and 50 innings, he posted a rock-solid 2.88 ERA and a 2.95 FIP, with a 12/44 BB/K ratio and an excellent 57.2 percent groundball rate.
Here is where he currently is when it comes to his rehab and his availability for Opening Day, per Tigers’ beat writer Jason Beck:
“I feel good. My stuff’s there right now. I’m sure the velocity will tick back up as I get the adrenaline rush in games. It’s been like 92 (mph) in the bullpen, so it’s pretty close. All my pitches feel good.”
Turnbull will surely have a spot in Detroit’s starting rotation, and it sounds like he’s approaching his ideal velocity. His four-seam fastball averaged 93.9 mph in 2021, and his sinker checked in at 94.9. It’s very, very early in spring training so it’s entirely possible, even likely, that he gets his velo close to all the way back later this year.
Again, the Yankees wouldn’t be acquiring a star in Turnbull, and that’s not the idea. They have two aces in Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón, and Luis Severino has pitched like an ace before. The plan would be getting usable depth, and Turnbull could be a bit more than that.
In fact, he compares favorably to Germán over the course of their careers:
Domingo Germán: 413.2 IP, 9.33 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 1.61 HR/9, 4.37 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 4.8 fWAR
Spencer Turnbull: 271.1 IP, 8.49 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9, 4.25 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 6.1 fWAR
The difference in FIP, fWAR, and particularly in home runs allowed per nine innings is noticeable. So the Yankees could be acquiring a slightly better pitcher than Germán to slot in their rotation, albeit one with a slightly higher injury risk.
Turnbull has a wide repertoire. He throws six pitches: a four-seam fastball, a slider, a sinker, a curveball, a changeup, and a cutter. The sinker gets him grounders, and he can miss bats with his slider and his curveball.
With a .264 xwOBA against and a 25 percent whiff rate in 2021, his fastball earned him great results, too.
He also had great spin rates in 2021, his last sample available, which would give the Yankees’ pitching people something to work with:
The Tigers are certainly not going to give him away, but the Yankees have prospects that could interest them and he could be a necessary piece for depth. Turnbull is competent and has potential to be more than that, so it doesn’t hurt to ask what would it take to get him.
Even if it’s unlikely the Yankees will snag Turnbull in particular, Brian Cashman should at least consider the idea, and mull the merits of bringing in another arm. The rigors of the season may well demand it soon enough.