The Tigers announced this evening that they have non-tendered outfielder Austin Meadows and right-hander Spencer Turnbull. Right-handers Brenan Hanifee, Garrett Hill, and Freddy Pacheco were all non-tendered as well. All five players will now hit the open market as free agents.
The decision to non-tender Meadows is hardly a surprise. While the former ninth-overall pick sports a career slash line of .259/.333/.472 over the past six years between his time with the Pirates, Rays, and Tigers, the 28-year-old has only rarely been able to take the field since arriving in Detroit. He played just 36 games in 2022 before being sidelined by vertigo, and in 2023 was placed on the injured list due to anxiety after six games before departing from the team in June.
Given his inability to stay on the field during his Tigers career, it’s hardly a surprise the club decided to non-tender Meadows rather than pay him the $4.3MM MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected he could earn in his final trip through arbitration this season. That’s an especially reasonable decision given the club’s deep outfield mix that includes the likes of Riley Greene, Mark Canha, Akil Baddoo, Kerry Carpenter, and Austin’s brother Parker Meadows.
That being said, if Meadows is healthy and ready to go for the 2024 season he could prove to be among the most interesting bats available on the open market this offseason. After all, Meadows won’t celebrate his 29th birthday until May and was one of the best hitters in the sport as recently as 2019, when he slashed .291/.364/.558 in 591 trips to the plate for Tampa en route to his first career All Star appearance and a 14th-place finish in AL MVP voting. In a class of free agent hitters that has few surefire, quality bats beyond top of the market stars Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger, Meadows could be an interesting buy-low candidate for clubs with a need in left field or at DH.
Turnbull’s non-tender, on the other hand, is something of a shock. Just last month, president of baseball operations noted that he expected Turnbull to compete for a spot in the club’s starting rotation this spring, seemingly suggesting that the club would tender the right-hander a contract at a projected $2.4MM. Turnbull made just seven starts in the big leagues due to injury this year, struggling to a 7.26 ERA and 5.55 FIP across 31 innings of work. It was his first time on a professional mound since undergoing Tommy John surgery early in the 2021 campaign.
Prior to Turnbull’s health issues, he looked like a budding mid-rotation or better starter with a 3.46 ERA and 3.24 FIP with a 21.4% strikeout rate across 106 2/3 innings (20 starts) between 2020 and 2021. Though he struggled badly both in the majors and at the Triple-A level in 2023, it seemed reasonable to expect Turnbull to be tendered by the Tigers this year, particularly given Harris’s previous comments. Now a free agent, Turnbull figures to be an attractive low-cost depth option for rotation-needy clubs this offseason given the considerable upside he flashed as recently as two years ago.
That being said, it’s worth noting that reports from earlier in the season indicated that the relationship between Turnbull and the Tigers began to fray this year after the Tigers attempted to option the right-hander to Triple-A early in the season, prompting Turnbull to disclose neck discomfort that ultimately resulted in him being placed on the injured list instead. The Tigers ultimately activated Turnbull from the injured list and optioned him to the minors in August, just six days before he would reach five years of MLB service time. The move ultimately delayed Turnbull’s free agency from after the 2024 campaign until after the 2025 campaign. Given the frayed relationship between club and player, it’s more understandable that the sides have decided to part ways.
As for the other three righties non-tendered by Detroit this evening, both Pacheco and Hanifee had already been designated for assignment by the Tigers earlier this week, making the decision to non-tender the pair little more than a formality. Pacheco has not yet appeared in the major leagues in his career and underwent elbow surgery back in June, while Hanifee posted a 5.40 ERA in five innings of work with the Tigers this year. Hill, by contrast, is the most established of the three at the big league level with 76 total innings in the big leagues over the past two seasons. While he pitched decently as a swing option for Detroit in 2022 with a 4.03 ERA in 60 1/3 innings, Hill’s nine appearances out of the bullpen this season were nothing short of disastrous with a 9.19 ERA in 15 2/3 innings of work.