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March 21, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Turnover in Miami

by Daniel Rathman

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The July 2012 trade between the Marlins and Tigers, which sent Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit, brought three players back to Miami. Jacob Turner, the Tigers’ top-ranked prospect entering the 2012 season, was the centerpiece of the return package, which also included Rob Brantly, now the Marlins’ starting catcher, and Brian Flynn, an intriguing but still raw pitching prospect.

In late August, the Marlins promoted Turner—who had struggled in his first two big-league stints with the Tigers—back to the majors, and he performed well, allowing no more than three earned runs in all but one of his seven starts. Turner collected only 29 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings, but he also issued only nine walks, surrendering less than one base runner per inning, with the benefit of some batted-ball luck. All in all, it was a strong showing for a 21-year-old, and Turner was widely expected to retain his spot in the starting five heading into 2013. 

Turner might cede spot in Marlins rotation
Between then and now, perhaps under the direction of owner Jeffrey Loria, Larry Beinfest and the front office gutted the team’s rotation, clearing spots for up to four newcomers alongside extant veteran Ricky Nolasco. As part of the re-rebuilding plan, the Marlins hoped to emphasize competition for playing time across all positions, forcing players like Turner to earn their stripes in Grapefruit League play. And, after coughing up 10 runs on 13 hits and five walks in his first 8 1/3 innings of work, Turner is now in danger of losing a job for which, less than a month ago, he was heavily favored.

The official depth chart on the Marlins’ website still lists Turner as the team’s number-two starter, but as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro pointed out on Wednesday, the information presented there does not necessarily match what first-year manager Mike Redmond and Beinfest are currently thinking. In fact, while Nolasco is indeed expected to garner the Opening Day assignment, Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi are ahead of Turner on the totem pole, at least from the standpoint that both of those northpaws are now assured of spots in the starting five. Left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who has tossed nine shutout innings without walking a batter this spring, is now in line for the number-four slot. Suddenly, instead of sitting pretty with a scheduled assignment in Washington on April 3, Turner finds himself in a three-way battle with minor-league signings John Maine and Kevin Slowey to avoid a ticket back to Triple-A.

And, in some ways, the polish that Turner showed on his way up the minor-league ladder might now be working against him. After being selected with the ninth-overall pick in the 2009 draft, Turner signed a major-league contract and rocketed through the system to reach The Show on July 30, 2011. Along the way, the Tigers burned their usual allotment of three minor-league options, which—under typical circumstances—would have forced the Marlins to make room for Turner in their 2013 plans, since they would have needed to expose him to waivers in order to stash him in New Orleans. But, because Turner’s three options were used within his first five professional seasons, by rule, the Marlins are granted a fourth option, enabling them to dodge an otherwise troublesome roster crunch.

Thus, the decision for Beinfest and Redmond rests on two factors: 1) whether they believe Turner could benefit from another stint in Triple-A, and 2) whether they feel that slowing the righty’s service-time clock could help the squad in the long run. Turner’s contract carries club options for 2014 and 2015, valued at $1 million apiece (or $500,000 if he spends the year in the minors), but the Marlins could gain an additional pre-arbitration season if they can justify sending him to New Orleans for the majority of 2013.

From a development perspective, Turner still lacks an elite off-speed offering, and his curveball command remains a work in progress, two concerns that Kevin Goldstein mentioned in the afore-linked prospect rankings. Mistakes with the bender led to a good deal of Turner’s struggles last year, and he missed the zone with more than half of his curves and changeups, according to his Brooks Baseball pitcher card. Pair that with a lowly fastball whiff rate of 4.12 percent, and it becomes evident that Turner still has a long way to go in order to reach his second- or third-starter ceiling. If the Marlins believe that he can make those improvements in New Orleans, where he managed only a 16-to-12 K:BB over five starts last year, then they might find taking advantage of the fourth option worthwhile.

The 28-year-old Slowey, who has amassed 13 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings this spring, would likely grab the spot vacated by Turner if Redmond and Beinfest choose to do so. Maine has served up three home runs in eight innings of work, and is still working his way back from a pair of shoulder surgeries, so he is a long shot to earn the job. Given the fragility of both veterans, even if Turner is sent to Triple-A, he could have an opportunity to return to the majors not long after Opening Day.

Giants, Buster Posey discussing mega-deal
Over the past year, general manager Brian Sabean has not shied away from extending multi-year commitments to his homegrown pitchers, but he might soon find himself in waters that have long gone uncharted. Last April, the Giants inked Matt Cain to a six-year, $127.5 million extension, and then gave $35 million over five years to Madison Bumgarner, in a pact that also includes club options for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Now, Sabean would like to lock up their battery-mate, Posey—who, in parts of three major-league seasons and only one full campaign, has earned Rookie of the Year honors and a National League MVP award, and helped the team to two World Series titles.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Giants are discussing two possible contract frameworks with Posey, a Super Two player who agreed to an $8 million salary for the 2013 season to forgo his first year of arbitration. One version would cover only the ensuing three years of his arbitration eligibility, leaving Posey on track to hit the free-agent market after the 2016 season, while a less publicized one could keep him in San Francisco for the duration of his professional career. Heyman believes that a 10-year hitch might be in the cards for Posey, who turns 26 on March 27 and is projected to be worth 4.7 WARP this year.

The CBSSports.com post linked above is worth reading in its entirety, as Heyman explains in detail why the Posey negotiations could be unprecedented. Sam Miller wrote last month about the Giants’ quiet offseason, in which Sabean once again brought the band back together and did little to supplement the 2012 championship squad. Keeping Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro in town was easy enough; if the Giants are in fact discussing a 10-year deal with their catcher, though, things at 24 Willie Mays Plaza could spice up in a hurry.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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