The Phillies have agreed to a one-year, $2MM contract with right-hander Spencer Turnbull, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post (X link). Turnbull, a client of the Boras Corporation, can also earn another $2MM in incentives.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Turnbull to earn $2.4MM in his final season of arbitration eligibility, yet the Tigers chose to non-tender the righty in November. It is fair to assume that the clashes between Turnbull and the Tigers over service time contributed to the club’s decision moreso than his modest price tag, though Turnbull also has a checkered health history coming off what is almost three straight lost seasons.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has some familiarity with Turnbull, as Dombrowski was still running the Tigers front office when Detroit selected Turnbull in the second round of the 2014 draft. The righty battled some shoulder problems during his trip up the minor league ladder, but made his MLB debut with 16 1/3 innings in 2018 and then tossed 148 1/3 frames during the 2019 season. Despite a league-high 17 losses that year, Turnbull had decent enough peripherals that he looked like a potential building block for the rebuilding Tigers.
That potential was further realized when Turnbull posted a 3.46 ERA over 106 2/3 innings in 2020-21. He pitched well for Detroit during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, and then his 2021 season was highlighted by a no-hitter on May 18 of that year. Unfortunately, Turnbull made only three more appearances after his no-no before undergoing Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for the rest of the 201 season and all of 2022.
Returning to action last year, Turnbull struggled to a 7.26 ERA over seven starts, and he didn’t pitch again the majors after May 6. He was initially optioned to the minors the next day, though that option was overwritten a week after when Turnbull was placed on the 15-day IL due to neck discomfort. The right-hander was eventually moved to the 60-day injured list and wasn’t activated until August, when Turnbull was then optioned to Triple-A.
Turnbull wasn’t pleased with the demotion because he was also dealing with foot injury at the time, and the situation was eventually resolved in November when Turnbull was awarded a full year of MLB service time. He now has five years and 20 days of acknowledged big league service time, and would’ve fallen short of the five-year mark had his appeal for more time hadn’t been granted. This would have delayed Turnbull’s eventual trip to free agency for another year, as he wouldn’t have had the necessary six full years of eligibility heading into the 2024-25 offseason, though that ended up being something of a moot point after the Tigers non-tendered him.
The 31-year-old will now look for a fresh start in Philadelphia under Dombrowski’s watch once again. Dombrowski spoke last month about how the Phillies were looking to add depth to their pitching staff, though since the Phils already have a pretty set rotation and bullpen mix, the team was having some difficulty in luring pitchers who wanted more opportunities for innings. This could explain why the Phillies opted for Turnbull, whose market was lessened given his recent injury woes.
Turnbull, Dylan Covey, Kolby Allard, Nick Nelson, and Max Castillo now project as Philadelphia’s top rotation depth options. Any of this group could also pitch in the bullpen, and Turnbull has a leg up on the others due to the guaranteed nature of his contract. Working as a reliever might also present a new career path for Turnbull to explore if starting pitching is no longer in the cards, though it still seems too early for that door to be closed.