Over the past several years, the Dodgers have become known for acquiring lost major league hitters and turning them into bona fide mashers at the dish.
Chris Taylor was horrendous in 256 career plate appearances with the Seattle Mariners. He slashed .240/.296/.296 with a 71 wRC+ and a .268 wOBA. Since his first full season with the Dodgers in 2017, Taylor’s SLG has gone up 158 percent (.468) and he has a wRC+ of 118.
In 245 plate appearances with the Oakland A’s, Max Muncy slashed .195/.290/.321 with a 70 wRC+. He became an everyday player for the Dodgers at the beginning of 2018 and launched 20 homers in his first 183 at-bats for the club. Over the past three seasons, he’s posted a 138 wRC+ and a .374 wOBA.
But the man responsible for starting this wave of success stories for the Dodgers is Justin Turner. Before he arrived in Hollywood, Turner didn’t get on base very often or hit for sustained power (eight home runs in 904 plate appearances with the Mets), and he left a lot to be desired at the plate. A just-below-league-average hitter across four seasons with the Mets, Turner was one of the best ten hitters in baseball his first season with the Dodgers. All he’s done since 2014 is slash an impressive .302/.382/.503 with a 141 wRC+ and 26.6 fWAR. The man simply rakes.
As we get closer to Spring Training, Turner remains sans a team. The Dodgers have already bid farewell to a few key contributors this offseason. Joc Pederson is headed to Chicago. Kike Hernandez joined the Red Sox. Alex Wood teamed up with the division-rival Giants. Could Turner be next?
The Braves and Blue Jays are reportedly expressing interest, as are several other clubs, according to the latest reports, but the Dodgers should make it a priority to bring Turner back to continue anchoring the middle of the lineup.
While this will be Turner’s age-36 season, he’s displayed no signs of slowing down, especially at the plate. In 42 games last season, Turner posted a 140 wRC+ and a .860 OPS. While his ISO dipped down to its lowest mark since 2014, it’s clear that isn’t something over which to drum up too much concern. Turner finished in the 75th percentile or better for exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate. His xwOBA (.386) was outstanding, good for the 95th percentile. His HR/FB% (7.3 percent), however, took a massive dip, down from 17 percent in 2019. This actually suggests that Turner might be in line for some positive regression in 2021, since HR/FB% will regress to league average over time. Here’s an example of some of the bad luck Turner endured last year on fly balls, courtesy of Mike Yastrzemski.
Turner hasn’t been a strong fielder the past couple of years, but he’s certainly still serviceable at the hot corner. If the DH does return in 2021, Turner’s re-signing would make even more sense, as he could split time at third base with 26-year-old Edwin Rios, who, while it is a small sample, has been impressive in his 139 career MLB plate appearances.
Rios is the current projected starter at third base, according to FanGraphs’ 2021 team depth charts. His Steamer projection is, well, not quite on par with Turner.
A lineup featuring Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Will Smith, AJ Pollock, and Chris Taylor or Gavin Lux is fantastic. Keeping Justin Turner in that group is borderline unfair, as the Dodgers demonstrated for us last year.
This year, the Dodgers have all the more reason to make sure Turner stays in that lineup, and that reason is just a two hour trip down I5.
The San Diego Padres went all-in this offseason, acquiring two aces in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish. They also shrewdly traded for Joe Musgrove, who has loads of upside. With a rotation of Snell, Darvish, Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, and Musgrove, the Padres have built a pitching empire ready to dethrone its big brother in Los Angeles. Having Justin Turner would make it that much more difficult for the Padres to do that.
The reports are suggesting that Turner is still asking for a four-year deal. I can understand why the Dodgers — and other teams — would be hesitant to give a 36-year-old that long of a contract, despite his recent production. I think the longer this drags out, the more it favors the Dodgers. It seems like Turner wants to stay in Los Angeles, but I think if he wants to play at all, especially for the Dodgers, he’s going to have to settle for a two- or three-year deal. If he can be had for 2 years, $24-26M, the Dodgers would be foolish to let him go elsewhere.
If Turner does end up in Atlanta or Toronto — or anywhere else — the Dodgers will still boast one of the most productive lineups in the sport. But having Justin Turner is better than not having Justin Turner.