The Tigers have informed veteran righty Julio Teheran that he will make their Opening Day roster, manager A.J. Hinch announced to reporters Wednesday (Twitter links via Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press). Teheran had a March 22 opt-out date in his contract that he triggered two days ago, giving the club 48 hours to make the move. He’ll now be guaranteed a $3MM salary with up to $1MM available via additional incentives. In a corresponding roster move, the Tigers announced that righty Spencer Turnbull has been placed on the injured list. No reason was given, but he’s been away from the rest of the club since Saturday due to Covid-19 protocols.
Detroit also informed left-hander Tarik Skubal that he’s made the big league rotation. Meanwhile, veteran righty Erasmo Ramirez and lefty Ian Krol did not make the club but will stick with the team. Ramirez has more than six years of service time and finished out the 2020 season on a 40-man roster, making him an Article XX(B) free agent under the collective bargaining agreement and thus entitling him to a $100K retention bonus for remaining with the Tigers rather than taking the release opportunity afforded to him by that status.
Teheran, 30, has had an outstanding spring with the Tigers, holding opponents to three runs on just six hits and one walk with 15 strikeouts over the course of 11 innings. More encouragingly, he’s shown improved velocity this spring, with both Petzold and The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen indicating that he came out of the gates hitting 92.8 and 92.9 mph — just a year after Statcast pegged his average four-seamer at 89.2 mph and his average sinker at 88.7 mph.
Last year was a particularly dismal season for Teheran. In his first season away from his original organization, the Braves, Teheran missed the early portion of the year due to a positive Covid-19 diagnosis and attempted to build up his pitch count in a big league setting but never looked like himself. He was clobbered for a disastrous 10.05 ERA (5.99 SIERA) with a career-low 13.4 percent strikeout rate against an elevated 10.7 percent walk rate.
Prior to 2020, Teheran had been a durable workhorse in Atlanta. He may not have developed into the ace-caliber starter that many expected based on his former top prospect status — his 2014 season came close — but from 2013-19 Teheran combined for a 3.64 ERA over the life over 1334 innings. He averaged 32 starts per season along the way, landing on the injured list only twice: a two-week stretch due to a minor lat strain in 2016 and a 10-day stint for a thumb contusion in 2018.
Teheran now steps into the Tigers’ rotation alongside Matthew Boyd, Jose Urena and the up-and-coming Skubal, who ranked as one of the game’s top 50 prospects prior to making his MLB debut in 2020. The 24-year-old Skubal was tagged for a 5.63 ERA last season, but only in a small sample of 32 innings. He battled some control issues a bit in his most recent spring start but has held opponents to a pair of runs on eight hits and eight walks with 15 strikeouts in 12 Grapefruit League innings. Obviously, he’ll need to command the strike zone more effectively during the season, but Skubal has encouraged the club enough to further audition for a long-term rotation spot.
Turnbull was likely ticketed for a rotation spot himself, but there’s no timeline for his return to the club. In the meantime, the Tigers can look to former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize or former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. The latter worked out of the bullpen in his most recent outing and has generally struggled this spring, but he still hopes to return to form as a starter after undergoing Tommy John surgery late in 2018, missing 2019 and struggling in 2020. Mize has also struggled, however, so the Tigers could look elsewhere within the organization to piece things together until Turnbull is deemed eligible to return. Both Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander have experience starting at the MLB level.