There’s no player more emblematic of the Dodgers’ rise to dominance than Justin Turner. Other teams have had generational talents like Clayton Kershaw carry them and other teams have had the financial clout to sign players like Mookie Betts, but what sets the Dodgers apart isn’t their fortune in drafting superstars or their control over one of the largest markets in North America. It’s their ability to turn nothing into something. Before joining the Dodgers, Turner was a 29-year-old replacement-level player who could be had for a minor-league deal. Since then, Turner has been a consistent All-Star level talent and one of the 20-best hitters in the majors by wRC+, fWAR, and wOBA.
Though he’s entering his age-36 season, Turner hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. 2020 marked Turner’s lowest slugging percentage in Dodger blue at .460, but that seems more attributable to bad luck than anything. Per Baseball Savant, Turner posted career highs in barrel percentage (11.2) and hard-hit rate (44.0). Turner’s expected slugging percentage of .553 ranked in the 93rd percentile. Out of 129 players with at least 10 barrels in 2020, Turner ranked 127th in wOBA – xwOBA meaning he had the third-worst results when he hit the snot out of the ball.
Despite his apparent bad luck, Turner still slashed .307/.400/.460 for a 140 wRC+. His 1.3 fWAR put him right on pace for his usual 3-4 win season. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why he’s the highest-ranked third baseman on the free agent market. Unless Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant get traded, no team can do better than picking up Turner to man the hot corner this winter.
If you’re really looking for warts, there’s the concerns about his durability. Turner hasn’t appeared in more than 135 games since 2016. In 2020, he only made it into 42 contests after two separate trips to the injured list for a groin strain and then a hamstring strain. Turner hasn’t shown his age in his performance, but his health history reads more like a 36-year-old’s.
When he’s healthy (which is still most of the time), Turner is absolutely worth it which is why the Dodgers are keen on re-signing him. If the Dodgers don’t bring back Turner, they’ll need to do one of the following: outbid the Yankees (and whoever else) for DJ LeMahieu, convince the Rockies to trade Nolan Arenado to a division rival, or make a trade for Kris Bryant. Anything less is going to feel like a downgrade, but none of those options seem easy.
The Dodgers’ greatest competitors for Justin Turner appear to be the Blue Jays who have been in contact with Turner according to Ken Rosenthal. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. not sticking at third, the Blue Jays have had to turn to Travis Shaw who has a 66 wRC+ over the last two seasons. Turner alone might not catch the Jays up with the Yankees or the Rays, but if the playoffs are expanded once again in 2021, his presence would make them Wild Card contenders once again.
Of course, other teams should be kicking Turner’s tires this offseason especially if the designated hitter will stick around for 2021 or make it’s way into the next CBA. Turner has been a constant contributor for the better part of a decade, and there’s no reason why he should stop now.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.