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A’s acquire Nik Turley from Pirates

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New reliever, for cash considerations

Detroit Tigers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s made an offseason move! For an MLB player!

The A’s announced Thursday that they’ve acquired relief pitcher Nik Turley from the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for cash considerations.

The 31-year-old Turley is a left-hander who spent all of 2020 in the majors, after a marathon journey through the minors. He was a 50th-round draft pick out of high school in 2008, a level of the draft so deep that it doesn’t even exist anymore — a normal year cuts off at 40 rounds now. The next decade was spent bouncing between the Yankees, Giants, Red Sox, and Twins systems, mostly working as a starter.

He finally reached the majors with Minnesota in 2017 and got hammered (11.21 ERA, 7.06 FIP), but he remained unhittable in the upper minors all of that summer (34.5% strikeout rate, 12.1 K/9). The Twins waived him after the season, and he landed with the Pirates.

Then his career hit a brick wall — he lost all of 2018 and 2019 to a PED suspension and then Tommy John surgery. But he came back in 2020, and this time he held his own in the majors for Pittsburgh.

Turley, 2020: 4.98 ERA, 21⅔ ip, 20 Ks, 11 BB, 1 HR, 3.88 FIP, .289 xwOBA

That’s not a great ERA, but his peripherals are encouraging, especially his Statcast xwOBA mark. His .289 was far better than league average, and among the A’s pen it was in between Lou Trivino (who quietly had a good year in middle relief) and Jordan Weems (one of Athletics Nation’s favorite bullpen sleepers). Turley will have to prove that his ability to keep the ball in the park is a skill and not a small-sample fluke, but there’s reason for optimism in that regard in his most recent minor league performance.

Turley, 2017 AAA/AA: 2.05 ERA, 92 ip, 124 Ks, 29 BB, 4 HR, 2.19 FIP

In terms of stuff, Turley’s arsenal included only two pitches last season, used with nearly equal frequency. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.2 mph and topped out at 96.5, and his 76 mph curveball missed the bat 37% of the time hitters swung at it. Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors also notes that “Turley has elite spin rates on his curveball and particularly on his four-seam fastball,” a trait that’s become a hot commodity in recent years.

The addition of Turley brings the A’s 40-man roster up to 38 players. He’s out of options, so if he remains in the organization then he’ll also be part of the MLB active 26-man roster. He joins Jake Diekman, J.B. Wendelken, and Rule 5 draft pick Dany Jimenez as relievers who cannot be sent down to the minors.

Analysis

Looks good to me! Taking a free flyer on a minimum-salary reliever who was decent last year and has obvious upside. It remains to be seen if specifically Turley will pan out, but this is the correct way to build a bullpen on a budget.

The A’s need to rebuild their entire pen, around just Diekman, Wendelken, and presumably Trivino. Even if they do sign an established free agent eventually, there are so many spots to fill that they’ll still need to load up on as many promising sleepers as possible. I’ve complained all winter as the interesting scrap-heap names come off the board for tiny salaries or even minor league deals, but now the A’s finally went and got one. Turley wasn’t specifically on my list, because I was strictly looking at free agents and the Pirates only DFA’d him this week, but he fits the bill.

Oakland also needed a lefty. They lost T.J. McFarland to free agency, and if they shift Diekman to closer duties then he won’t be available for specific matchups. All of the other in-house candidates and prospects are right-handed, unless A.J. Puk is in the bullpen and healthy, so Turley fills that need.

He’s the complete opposite of McFarland in style — McFarland is a soft-tossing grounder specialist, and Turley throws hard and spinny to get you to either whiff or fly out. But he could slide into a similar role as a middle-inning southpaw who can eat multiple frames if needed (I’m assuming that last part based on his career as a starter; he never went beyond one inning in a game last year in Pittsburgh).

Welcome, Nik! If you’ve got any friends then bring ‘em along, there’s still plenty of space in the bullpen.

Roster update

Here is the updated 40-man roster, which currently has 38 members and two open spots. Players in italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB, and those with asterisks** are Rule 5 draft picks who can’t be sent down to the minors.

Oakland A's 40-man roster (38)
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Sean Manaea (L)
Frankie Montas (R)
A.J. Puk (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daulton Jefferies (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)

Relievers

Jake Diekman (L)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Nik Turley (L)
Dany Jimenez (R)**
Burch Smith (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Jordan Weems (R)
--Wandisson Charles (R)
--Miguel Romero (R)


Help Wanted
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Jonah Heim (S)
Austin Allen (L)

Infielders

Matt Chapman (R)
Matt Olson (L)
Chad Pinder (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Vimael Machin (L)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
Nate Orf (R)

Outfielders

Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Khris Davis (R)
--Ka'ai Tom (L)**
Skye Bolt (S)
Seth Brown (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)
--Greg Deichmann (L)