The good news today is that the second opinion on Jacob Turner’s elbow injury was the same as the first opinion:
Jacob Turner had second look at his elbow, which showed nothing new beyond flexor strain/bone bruise. Taking a month off throwing. #Cubs
— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) March 13, 2015
Taking a month off may not sound like good news, but compared to the alternative any time the structures of the elbow are in question, it’s good news (look no further than today’s Yu Darvish Tommy John surgery announcement for evidence). None of this is to say that Turner will definitely come back in a month and never deal with an elbow injury again (the greatest predictor of future arm injuries, unfortunately, are past arm injuries), but, as far as these things good, I’m relieved.
Further, now that we know where things stand with Turner’s elbow, it’s reasonable to consider the roster implications of the injury and recovery timeline. As we’ve discussed, the Cubs had an overwhelmingly crowded competition at the back of the rotation, and an overwhelmingly crowded competition for the bullpen. Injuries like Turner’s are predictable in the abstract, so it was always the case that some things would sort themselves out organically. Further, because of that extreme depth, the Cubs can afford to take it very slow and steady with Turner’s return, to ensure he comes back healthy.
And, to that end, there’s a silver lining to the injury and its timing.
Because of the big league contract he signed out of high school with the Tigers, Turner – who is just 23 – is already out of minor league options. That’s part of the reason the Cubs were able to snipe him from the Marlins last year, but it also made for a precarious position entering the season. If Turner didn’t win a job in the Cubs’ rotation (he was not the favorite), and if he did not win a job in the bullpen (it’s so very crowded), the Cubs were going to have to subject Turner to waivers in order to try and get him outrighted to AAA Iowa. Given his youth, scouting pedigree, and potential upside, it seems highly unlikely that Turner would clear waivers, so the Cubs would have been faced with the choice of keeping Turner on the 25-man roster at all costs, trading him for whatever they could get, or letting a claiming team simply have him. Depending on how things shook out, none of those choices is particularly attractive.
Now, because of his injury, the Cubs won’t have to confront those choices, if at all, for quite a long time. If Turner doesn’t throw for a month, he won’t be picking up a baseball until early to mid-April. From there, he’ll need at least a few weeks to build back up arm strength before facing batters in a game situation, which could be early May.
From there, Turner could go on a minor league rehab assignment for as long as 30 days without needing a minor league option to do it. In other words, the conceivable outcome of this injury is that Turner is placed on the disabled list, stays in Arizona to rehab and build up arm strength, and then spends most of May in the minor leagues pitching as he would have if he’d been optioned to the minors in the first place (and, of course, testing and ensuring his elbow’s health).
Further, depending on the extent of the injury and the Cubs’ roster needs, it’s possible that Turner could be placed on the 60-day DL before the season starts, opening up a 40-man roster spot for a guy like Phil Coke or another needed addition. Although that would render Turner unable to return to the big leagues until mid-to-late May (depending on how far back the Cubs are permitted to backdate the DL stint), he probably wouldn’t be returning until then anyway.
At that point, maybe the rotation has a clear need. Or maybe Turner is throwing so well the Cubs are eager to open up a spot for him. Or maybe the bullpen is beckoning. Or maybe it’s clear that it’s not going to work out. However it plays out, now the Cubs have much more of something they didn’t have before Turner’s injury: time.
Obviously the most important thing here is Turner’s healthy return, and the hope is still that he’ll contribute positively to the Cubs in 2015 and beyond. To that end, we’ll just have to cross our fingers on his rehab. In the interim, though, the Cubs will get to retain Turner, and the roster situation becomes incrementally less tricky for April 5.