Yesterday, the Miami Marlins pulled what will likely be the final trigger on the main piece of the Anibal Sanchez trade of 2012. The Fish sent the last half season of Sanchez along with an extra year of Omar Infante over to the Detroit Tigers and got in return prized top prospect Jacob Turner.
Almost two embattled years later, the Fish have designated Turner for assignment, signaling a likely end to his time with the organization. The Fish will have a chance to trade him to whatever team claims him on waivers. If no team does, the Marlins are free to trade him as they please until the end of August or demote him to Triple-A.
This would not have been a problem except that Turner ran out of options last year, in part because he got a Major League contract from the Detroit Tigers, and in part because the Marlins pushed and pulled him around during his development as well. Recall that the Marlins in 2013 sent Turner down to Triple-A after a rough Spring Training and promoted Tom Koehler and Alex Sanabia to the rotation despite Turner's status as an important future piece. Halfway into May, further injuries to the starting rotation forced Miami to re-promote Turner, who pitched in the bigs the rest of the way. The Fish burned their final option on Turner for a month and a half at Triple-A, during which he did not pitch well.
In fact, for the most part, Turner's career with Miami has not gone well in the starting rotation. Save for 42 1/3 innings in 2012 after being traded here, Turner has struggled mightily, and the Fish had little choice but to send him down. As a Marlin, he owns a career 4.41 ERA and 4.20 FIP, which are neither impressive nor all that encouraging.
But Tom Koehler has a 4.16 ERA and 4.18 FIP during his time in Miami, and he is not major threat to be released by the Fish anytime soon. Why did Turner get such a harsh boot? Most would say that Miami had no other option but to take a chance and hope he passed through waivers because he was out of options, but the Fish already explored a smart alternative for Turner earlier this year: demote him to the bullpen.
Some Marlins fans may not be happy about moving Turner anywhere near a mound. In his eight appearances as a reliever this season, he posted an ugly 5.74 ERA, which was only slightly better than the 6.03 ERA he had as a starter. But the numbers are definitely different beneath the ERA.
|Turner, 2013 Season||K%||BB%||GB%||ERA||FIP|
None of these numbers are real figures that we can project going forward, but they do point to Turner may be being useful out of the bullpen. He increased his strikeout rate and dropped his walk rate, and even his xFIP (which corrects the home run part of FIP with fly ball percentage) expects an ERA around 3.30.
The Marlins have been desperate for bullpen help all season. Wouldn't it behoove Miami to turn someone like Turner, whom they have no choice but to release out into the open otherwise, into a reliever and see what they have in him, especially after he put up the decent strikeout and walk numbers in a small sample? Miami does not have to risk him in higher-leverage situations, since bullpen pitchers are more easily controlled and can be pulled and placed as needed. Miami would not be asking Turner to handle closing all of a sudden, but instead would be letting him have long relief and cleanup duties along with some seventh inning work.
The added advantage for the Fish in moving Turner to the bullpen would be to avoid extended exposure to lefties. Thus far in his career, the splits have looked ugly.
The splits suggest that Turner is a hapless tosser against lefties, which makes some sense given his lack of development of secondary pitches. Compare that to his work against righties, which actually looks like a real pitcher's repertoire. In the bullpen, Miami can schedule Turner to face mostly righties as needed and avoid his lefty problems.
The pitcher currently working the cleanup role is Sam Dyson. Dyson was a top-20 prospect for our organization this year according to this site, but his Major League readiness is the most attractive part of his game. He gets ground balls and delivers some strikeouts, but he is mostly a pitcher that works towards contact. He has pitched well this year but does not have the upside of someone like Turner. Neither does Dan Jennings, who has bounced back and forth from Triple-A and Miami thanks to him having an option.
Essentially, all three pitchers are at worst pretty interchangeable. There is a good chance that Turner, the failed starting pitcher, may turn into Turner, the failed reliever, as well. But if you have options on the latter two interchangeable parts and do not have one on the former, why not give the former a try? This is especially true of a player with top prospect pedigree who could be a project out of the bullpen? By exposing him to the rest of Major League Baseball, Miami tossed out a low-cost upside asset to the wolves, and poor-performing teams should be on top of it. The Marlins should be one of those teams interested in that type of player instead of giving that player away.