Thursday, January 1, 2009

Twists and Turnbows...

The Rangers reached a tentative agreement with 30-year old free-agent RHP Derrick Turnbow on a one-year contract, according to Ken Gurnick of's Hot Stove Blog, again leaving the Bucs on the outside looking in.

Turnbow chose the Rangers over the Marlins and Pirates largely because of his comfort zone with new Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux, according to his agent Damon Lapa. Maddux was Turnbow's pitching coach during his Milwaukee stint.

The minor league contract would pay Turnbow $925,000 if he makes it to the show, with another $325,000 in performance incentives. Maddux or not, that seems like a pretty dear deal for him, given his recent pitching performance.

Turnbow's career has had more ups and downs that Kennywood's Steel Phantom.

He was a high school monster in his native Tennessee, and was drafted in 1997 by the Phillies in the 5th round of the draft, only to be quickly lost to the Los Angeles Angels in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft after being mauled for three seasons in the low minors as a starter.

As is the case with most Rule 5 pitchers, the Halos plopped Turnbow in the bullpen, where he would remain, and managed to hold on to him for the season, during which he made 24 appearances with a 4.74 ERA. He then spent the next two years in the bushes, and got a cup of coffee with LA in 2003 and 2004, being pretty effective both times.

He made the record books as an Angel, though in a way he'd probably like to forget. In October of 2003, Turnbow became the first MLB player to test positive for a banned substance.

The positive results came during tryouts for USA Baseball's Olympic qualifying team, and he escaped scot-free because MLB didn't begin testing and penalizing for steroid use until the next season, although he was banned from international play for two seasons.

He was dropped by LA after the 2004 season, and the Brew Crew swooped in. The guy that the Angel's waived suddenly became superman in Milwaukee, putting together a 7-1 slate with 39 saves and a 1.74 ERA, and he made the 2006 All-Star team.

The Cream City is where Turnbow hooked up with pitching guru Mike Maddox, who worked with him to harness his upper 90s heater. After his brilliant 2005 season, Turnbow was rewarded with a three-year, $6.5 million contract, buying out his first two seasons of arbitration.

But 2005 and early 2006 would be the apex of his career. Right around the 2006 All-Star game, he became a poster child for wild things. He converted only 1 of 5 save opportunities and posted a 21.32 ERA in July. Manager Ned Yost saw enough, and yanked Turnbow from the closer role in favor of Francisco Cordero, not a bad Plan B.

He ended 2006 with a 4-9 record, 24 saves, and a 6.87 ERA. 2007 wasn't much better. Turnbow was 4-5 with 1 save and a 4.63 ERA, walking 46 batters in 44 innings. And from there, he went from the frying pan into the fire.

In eight relief appearances with Milwaukee in 2008, he had an 0-1 record with one save and a 15.63 ERA, walking 13 in 6-1/3 frames. On May 1, he was DFA'd by the Brewers.

He still had $3.2M left on his contract, and Turnbow went unclaimed. Rather than lose the loot, he reported to AAA Nashville instead of declaring free agency. Can't fault him for that.

While with the Sounds, Turnbow suffered what was called "a near-total command meltdown" as he walked 41 batters in 18 innings. Shades of Steve Blass and Ricky Ankiel! He was dumped from the roster. And to add injury to insult, he also suffered a slight labrum tear, which is supposed to be fully healed now.

And there he sits, hoping for a Ranger resurrection of his career. In four full seasons of MLB, he's posted an ERA under 4.63 once. He sometimes touches 100 MPH with his fastball, and had that one year in the sun. That was enough to have a couple of teams, including our PBC, risk a low-cost, potentially high-return, dice roll on Turnbow.

Can Mike Maddux turn him around? Well, he was his coach during his superb 2005 campaign. He was also the coach when he imploded, so we don't know that following him to Arlington is going to be the answer.

As for the Pirates interest, it seems to us that there are already plenty of guys on the roster that can bring the heat but can't find the dish. And Joe Kerrigan has enough reclamation projects to deal with right now. Turnbow, to us, was just another arm that fit the power mold the new suits prefer, and they tried him on for size because he matched the current Bucco template.

Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. But it's not a great loss, just another example of the management trying to collect physical talent in whatever form it can afford. And with Matt Capps' contract running out after 2009, maybe stockpiling closers isn't such a bad idea.


Anonymous said...

why do the pirates year after year throw money at those guys another loser

Ron Ieraci said...

For whatever reason, the new front office is in love with power guys, maybe because of a dearth of them in the minors, but more likely because their AL background puts a premium on heat. In Turnbow's case, the contract was greater than the risk, so they let him slide.

Personally, most cases we've seen with guys that can't throw a strike is that it's not generally correctable, but the Bucs seem to have faith that they can turn one or two wild children around.

So we think it's just a matter of throwing some arms against the wall to see if any stick. Still, they seem to be reasonably stocked with bullpen guys in the system. It's about time they took a couple of shots at some starters, a position they're really weak in organizationally. That would seem to be money better spent.

Deaner said...

I'm not upset about this. I love the Kennywood comment, by the way. Turnbow is beyond fixable. Besides, he looks like he has been kicked in the face by a mule on multiple occasions... which makes me wonder why he's spending so much time behind equines.

Ron Ieraci said...

Actually, Deaner, I'd be surprised if they even offered him a contract, given what he got. I'd like to see them in play for a RH stick or two. Unless Baldelli sees an opportunity to get his innings here, I think they're done with the market, except for minor league fodder.

WilliamJPellas said...

I have no problem with the Pirates looking at Turnbow. Don't forget that with us, he'd get the added incentive to stick it to his former mates in Milwaukee on a regular basis. Obviously Turnbow didn't sign for a king's ransom in Texas, so assuming it would have been similar numbers here in PA, sure, he would have been worth a flyer.

That said, I agree with Ron that we need to be looking seriously at getting that RH stick in here ASAP. While we're never going to be players for the really big names in free agency---nor should we be---we still have a couple of glaring needs on this roster that are, in fact, best addressed via free agency. Baldelli would be an ideal signing.

Ron Ieraci said...

I agree that they're in a position to take on projects, Will, especially until they get to a point where they have some upper level depth in the system.

On the other hand, they lose some legitimacy whining about a lack of command by their pitchers when everyone they pick up has a history of being unable to hit the ocean with a beachball.

And Baldelli is the only guy I've seen under 30 that's available as an FA with some upside and pop. Otherwise, I'd be on my horse campaigning for them to get a short-term gap stop like Bobby Abreu to patrol right field, even if he blocks a player or two.

The pitching isn't that much of a concern to me, because except for a snowball's chance of a Peavy deal, there's really no one out there that fits to me.

WilliamJPellas said...

Not for the money they'd want, anyway. I really like Derek Lowe, even at his relatively advanced age of 35, and if we were on the upswing and he might make the difference in winning the division or the wild card, absolutely I'd overpay to bring him here for 3 or 4 years. A battle-tested postseason veteran like him would be a great addition if we had a realistic shot at the postseason in the next year or two.

Otherwise, I agree with you. I don't think we want to get into the habit of paying $10 million per for number 3 starters like Jeff Suppan, reliable as he was when he was here years ago.