Austin Meadows was a key move in the Tigers’ push to contend going into the 2022 season. Spencer Turnbull was one of the bright young pitching stars on the team after throwing a no-hitter in 2021. Both are now former Tigers after the team declined to tender them contracts for 2024, along with pitchers Garrett Hill, Freddy Pacheco and Brenan Hanifee. All are now free agents; the Tigers’ 40-man roster stands at 37.
Neither Meadows nor Turnbull was a surprise, which speaks to how quickly and drastically situations changed for vastly different reasons.
The Tigers acquired Meadows from the Rays for prospect Isaac Paredes at the end of Spring Training in 2022, a move designed to help fill in for an injured Riley Greene but also add power to Detroit’s lineup. Meadows hit 27 homers, drove in 106 runs and posted a 115 OPS+ for Tampa Bay in 2021, and he immediately slotted into the center of the Tigers' lineup. But physical and mental health issues stalled a promising opportunity.
Meadows played in 28 games for the Tigers before going on the 15-day injured list with vertigo symptoms brought on by a virus. He returned for a week in June but went back on the IL after testing positive for COVID-19, then battled an Achilles injury. Later in the season, Meadows revealed that he was struggling with his mental health and would focus on being physically and mentally ready for the following year.
Meadows reported to Spring Training 2023 ready to go, having worked out for part of the offseason with his younger brother, Tigers outfield prospect Parker Meadows. The two played together in Spring Training games. But a week into the season, Austin Meadows went back on the injured list with anxiety.
Austin worked out with the team for a while, then returned home to Florida around midseason to focus on his mental health while working with specialists. He did not make it back to Comerica Park. While Parker debuted with Detroit on Aug. 21 and made an immediate impact, Austin remained in touch from Florida. The Tigers cleared out his locker in September to make room in a crowded clubhouse for late-season callups.
While the Tigers were steadfast in their support of Meadows and the entire family, the situation became untenable. Meadows was arbitration-eligible for one more year, having made $4 million in 2022 and $4.3 million in '23. The Tigers, meanwhile, needed roster space for prospects and offseason dealings. While there’s still hope that Meadows can eventually return to baseball, it became clear that Detroit wasn’t the place for it.
Turnbull’s non-tender comes 30 months after his no-hitter in Seattle, but he made just 10 starts for the Tigers since that incredible night. Just three starts after the no-hitter, he sustained a right elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for the rest of 2021 and all of '22. He returned to action in Spring Training of 2023 and showed signs of his old stuff, but struggled to a 1-4 record and a 7.26 ERA in seven outings.
The Tigers optioned Turnbull to Triple-A Toledo after a rough outing in St. Louis in early May, but he reported a neck injury that he’d sustained a couple of outings earlier, an injury later confirmed by doctors. He returned to action on a rehab assignment in late July, but his continued struggles led Detroit to option him to Toledo at the end of August. A cracked toenail later sidelined him again.
Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said at season’s end that the team expected Turnbull to report to Spring Training and compete for a rotation spot. Instead, the 31-year-old Turnbull will hit the market in hopes that a change of scenery and voices will help get him back to that front-line form he once displayed.
Though Hill wasn’t arbitration-eligible, Detroit struggled to see a role for him going forward after the 27-year-old right-handler pitched in just nine games for the club this past season, mainly in long relief. He walked as many hitters as he struck out, 14 each, over 15 2/3 innings.
The Tigers had designated Pacheco and Hanifee for assignment earlier in the week, making Friday’s non-tenders a formality for them.