Dodgers have a perfect future DH, and his name is Justin Turner

Justin Turner (Photo: Cody Bashore)

I’m going to write this post assuming there will be baseball in 2020 — and that’s a huge assumption. But it could also serve a purpose for future seasons, should we not all succumb to the pandemic.

Dave Roberts was interviewed on MLB Network Radio yesterday and had something unsurprising to say about how the Dodgers plan to employ the designated hitter.

Makes sense, as the Dodgers have a lot of quality defensive players. When Justin Turner is your worst defender, that’s pretty impressive.

But Turner’s future in Los Angeles is in question after whatever version of 2020 we get. His 4-year, $64 million bargain of a contract expires following this season. With him staring his age-35 season in the face, he’s playing for his next deal. It probably won’t be as lucrative as his previous one, but there’s no reason to think he can’t perform at an above-average level for the next 2-3 years. However, his defense may not hold up as well.

Here’s Turner’s defensive runs saved at third base in his Dodger career.

YearInningsDRS
20144066
20157743
20161,224.29
20171,0003
20187775
20191,023.2-3

Now, 1-year defensive splits aren’t the be-all, end-all, but he is getting up there in age and he’s probably only going to lose range and arm strength as he gets firmly into his mid-to-late-30s. That will probably lead to decreasing defensive value. There was even talk in the real offseason (which seems like a lifetime ago) of the Dodgers playing Turner more at first base in 2020 as they pursued Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon. So, the thought of Turner sticking at the hot corner for the rest of his career is in question by the front office, and presumably by any front office that may pursue Turner in the offseason.

Despite not being a career-long Dodger, it would be strange to see Turner don any other uniform for the rest of his career. If the DH is here to stay in the National League (it is), perhaps the Dodgers have their primary DH in-house already, should Turner be willing to accept such a role. Oh, and the fact that he can still rake — .302/.381/.506, 141 wRC+ as a Dodger — doesn’t hurt things, either.

With Max Muncy‘s improvement on defense, Corey Seager still solid at shortstop and Gavin Lux looking like a future fixture in the middle infield, it may hurt the Dodgers more than help them if any of them spent significant time as a DH.

In the last decade, plenty of older ball players have carved out nice late-career stints as a DH in the last decade. Players like Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, David Ortiz, Paul Konerko — just to name a few — have been quite successful in the role since shifting primarily to the position.

I know playing defense is a source of pride for many players, but Turner’s defensive effectiveness will start to diminish. If he re-signs with LA and the DH here to stay, he could have a strong run in his age-36-38/39 seasons as the primary DH. I’m sure he’ll grab the glove to play either corner should someone need a bit of a rest or based on matchups, but for the future benefit of the team and to extend his career, Turner being a DH wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.