The Toronto Blue Jays have turned the stove up to 11.
Since the 20th of January, eight days before the writing of this article, they have signed Kirby Yates, Tyler Chatwood, George Springer, Marcus Semien and traded for Steven Matz. In what seems like one fell swoop, the Blue Jays have bolstered their pitching core by a good bit, while adding two high upside bats to the position player side.
They are clearly in win now mode.
But looking at their depth chart, specifically in the infield, the Jays have a clear opportunity to upgrade at third base. Since Toronto expects Semien to be their everyday second baseman, this (tentatively) slides Cavan Biggio over to third, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to first, and Rowdy Tellez to DH. This, of course, sounds great on paper, but as we know, injuries happen, players need days off, are vulnerable to platoon splits, etc.
As Azam Farooqui pointed out in his coverage about the Semien signing, Biggio may be best suited in a super utility role, given his experience playing 5 different positions on the diamond. If we accept this premise, that frees up an everyday spot a the hot corner. So with that out of the way, let’s make the case for signing Justin Turner.
While Turner is no youngster, set to play in his age 36 season this year, he has easily been one of the most valuable third basemen in all of baseball by fWAR.
Top Third Basemen since 2017
Of the players on this list, Turner’s 145 wRC+ trails only Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon. In terms of overall WAR value, He is closer to the top five on a rate basis if we adjust for playing time. MLB’s The Shredder ranked him as baseball’s 6th best third baseman right now.
There were a few numbers that took a dip for Turner in the pandemic shortened 2020 season that could cause some alarm, however, especially in the power department. His grand total of four home runs and .460 SLG were not only low by his standards, they are generally unimpressive for a third baseman, and could signal a decline in overall production in the years to come. Additionally, Turner’s .153 ISO was his lowest since 2014, which was his first season in Los Angeles. But a deeper look into Turner’s 2020 metrics show less of a decline and more of a somewhat unlucky season.
Justin Turner 2019-20
Granted, it does feel awfully strange to opine that a player with a .347 BABIP and a 140 wRC+ (4th best among MLB third basemen in 2020, min. 150 PA) was unlucky, but without a more holistic evaluation of Turner’s season, one could reasonably infer that since the power is down, and we know that BABIP regresses over time, tougher days may be ahead.
With that said, let’s look at some of his batted ball metrics to see what is really going on.
Justin Turner 2019-20 II
|EV (Percentile)||90.3 (71st)||90.3 (76th)|
|HH% (PCTL)||42.4% (75th)||44.0% (76th)|
|Barrel% (PCTL)||7.3% (49th)||11.2% (75th)|
|XBA (PCTL)||.290 (88th)||.299 (93rd)|
|xWOBA (PCTL)||.382 (90th)||.386 (95th)|
In every important batted ball metric except HR/FB%, Turner actually stayed the same or made gains. The largest of these gains were in Barrel%. Barrels are defined by MLB’s StatCast glossary as the following:
To be Barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands.
In other words, Turner was making quality contact at a much higher rate in 2020, but the ‘decline’ in power was simply due to the fact that less of his fly balls ended up as home runs. This presents an extremely promising outlook for 2021, as we know that, like BABIP, HR/FB% also regresses to the league average over time. If that were to happen for him, that would double his HR/FB%.
For the Blue Jays, it would lengthen an already potent lineup, and moving Biggio to a utility role as previously mentioned would give the major league roster some needed depth. His ability to defend the hot corner at a high level is a fair concern, but he grades out similarly to Biggio in Outs Above Average, and he can’t possibly be worse at third than Guerrero, Jr. right?
Considering his age, it’s reasonable to think Turner could be had on a relatively affordable deal, as he won’t command anywhere near the nine figure deal that Springer did, even though the offensive production has been remarkably similar. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted Turner would land a two year, $24MM deal, while Craig Edwards of FanGraphs predicted a deal of 2/26.
While Turner has spent the last seven seasons as a Dodger, including the last four on his first free agent deal, it isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion that he will stay there, especially since the Blue Jays are clearly willing to outbid other teams for a player’s services—they already outbid the Dodgers for Hyun-Jin Ryu. Since the Blue Jays have made the decision to be active this offseason, bringing in a player of Turner’s caliber would be a perfect move to cap it all off.
Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.