— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 12, 2016
Turner’s market never fully developed, despite his being one of the two best free-agent position players (Yoenis Cespedes) available at the start of the offseason. The Angels, Cardinals and Giants were the only teams outside of the Dodgers linked to Turner, but none of them ever seemed to be really in the mix. The Angels made sense, but their owner doesn’t want to go over the luxury tax. The Giants made sense before they shelled out $15.5 million per season for closer Mark Melancon. The Cardinals didn’t make a lot of sense because their infield is pretty full, but they would have likely traded Jhonny Peralta to make room for Turner. Instead, they signed Dexter Fowler to big deal to patrol center field.
Turner made the most sense to return to the Dodgers. They have no legitimate in-house option to replace Turner’s production. I manage the Dodgers’ depth chart for FanGraphs, and before this signing I had Rob Segedin and Chris Taylor getting 665 of the 700 available plate appearances and producing a 1.8 fWAR between them. For context, Turner produced a 5.6 WAR in 622 plate appearances in 2016. That’s almost a 4-win difference, making this deal a sure no-brainer. If the Dodgers had a capable shortstop in the high minors, perhaps they could have pondered moving Corey Seager to third base, but I also think they want to keep him at shortstop as long as he’s capable at the position defensively.
Turner’s time with the Dodgers has been incredible. He has gone from non-roster invitee on a $1 million deal in 2014 to almost an MVP-level third baseman. For his Dodger career, Turner owns a .296/.364/.492 triple slash with a 138 wRC+ and an 8.1 BB%. His wRC+ number is 18th-best in baseball since 2014 (minimum 1,000 plate appearances) and puts him in similar company with Andrew McCutchen (140), Michael Brantley (139), Jose Abreu (137) and Jose Altuve (137). His 12.8 WAR is 24th-best in baseball in that time as well, so he’s not just an all-bat guy at third base. He has been a Top 10 defensive third baseman in baseball, too (18 DRS, 10.0 UZR/150).
What isn’t talked about enough is Turner’s leadership in the clubhouse. He emerged as a leader in a clubhouse that doesn’t have a ton of “rah-rah” and boisterous guys in there (outside of Yasiel Puig, of course). Until Seager takes that responsibility — and it’s kind of hard to do in your rookie season — this will continue to be Turner’s clubhouse.
And one more thing: Turner has been nails in the playoffs. He owns a .357/.471/.607 triple slash with two home runs, six doubles and 12 RBIs (Proven Run Producer). He had the biggest hit in Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS against the Nationals, as he tripled off Shawn Kelley to give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead (they would go onto win 4-3). He also homered off Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta — the last two Cy Young Award winners — in October.
Going back to JT’s contract, the lack of appealing alternatives also played into this. The names bandied about were Todd Frazier, Mike Moustakas, Yangervis Solarte and others. While I’d have been OK with Moustakas or Solarte replacing Turner, I would have been less so with Frazier. Moustakas is a lesser version of Turner who is younger but also going into his last year of arbitration. With Moustakas or Solarte, the team would needed to make another move, like trading for Brian Dozier. Hell, even with Turner coming back, the Dozier deal should also get consummated. That would give the Dodgers one of the better infields in the National League, let alone baseball. When Adrian Gonzalez is your worst infielder, you’re doing things right. If not Dozier, then maybe Logan Forsythe or even look at putting Solarte at second base. Either way, bringing Turner back doesn’t mean the Dodgers forego an upgrade at second base.
One thing’s for sure: The Dodgers needed this deal. Turner started off slow in 2016, but he tapped into his power and led the team in home runs. The deal is incredibly friendly to the Dodgers, as I was expecting Turner to land a deal that would pay him upward of $18-20 million annually and instead he’ll be paid like a league-average player. The fact that it’s a 4-year deal also plays into the Dodgers’ favor.
Looking down the road, if the Dodgers were to jump into the loaded free-agent class of 2018-19 and target, say, Manny Machado, the Dodgers could move Turner to first base (because Gonzalez’s contract will have expired) and play Cody Bellinger (if he isn’t traded) in left field until Turner’s deal is up. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves, but those concerns have been brought up and it’s likely not worth worrying about.