Long-time Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner has finally re-signed with the team, inking a 2-year, $34 million contract with a $14 million club option for a third year for what is presumably one last go at it.
I say “finally” because it was weeks ago that JT seemed to be on the verge of returning, but him and the Dodgers decided to have a staring contest over terms. Still, this always seemed inevitable as it was the best option for both sides.
Oh yeah, he broke his own signing on Twitter.
As we all know by now, JT has been stellar since becoming a Dodger in 2014, putting up a .302/.382/.503/.885 line for a 141 wRC+ that ranks him third in baseball among third basemen over that time. He has provided a rare consistency in the middle of the order, and has also been a stellar defender that once competed for Gold Gloves at the position.
Of course, the Dodgers are paying for the next two years and not for the past, and JT entering his age-36 season in 2021 is obviously of some concern. While he was still a great hitter in 2020 (.307/.400/.460/.860), it was also the third consecutive year his OPS fell, most of which is tied to a drop in power. Fortunately, JT was still hitting the ball as hard as ever. His exit velocity was his highest in the last four seasons, his launch angle held steady, and he set a career-high for hard-hit percentage, so there’s signs he’s staving off precipitous decline with the bat. Perhaps the bigger concern is further defensive deterioration, where his once plus glove now rates as fringe-average at best across multiple grading systems (and quite frankly by the eye test).
Projections foresee some drop in production, but also don’t think he’s close to losing it. ZiPS projects JT to continue on as an above-average regular in 2021, seeing an ~.820 OPS and accumulating 2.5 WAR across just ~450 plate appearances. PECOTA believes much of the same with a similar ~.820 OPS and 2.7 WAR across 475 PA. Meanwhile, THE BAT has his line at .273/.364/.461/.825 for 2021. All this tracks with his recent performance and his peripherals, while factoring in age-related decline.
Perhaps given the postseason struggles for the Dodgers until 2020, Turner was also very notable for having a .295/.392/.507/.899 line in 314 playoff plate appearances, including a club-record 12 homers. So JT finally being able to win one with the Dodgers after seemingly being robbed of that in 2017 was one of the things I’m truly grateful for in 2020.
Less tangible is his leadership skills and what he means to the clubhouse. Despite the mess to end his 2020 (even if it involved miscommunication), it’s clear the players, coaches, and the front office still hold him in high regard, which is primarily what matters and so he should continue to lead the team day in and day out.
Turner’s signing does take the Dodgers over the harshest luxury tax penalty threshold, a scenario I already looked at previously. Rather than scramble for a salary dump, I think they’ll just be opportunistic and it’s probable they just ride it out for a couple years until they can comfortably reset the penalties later as they’ve done before.
Everybody knows the risk with JT’s contract, as any time a player is entering his late-30s, decline into a burden more than a contributor is a valid concern. However, it’s only a two-year commit, so there’s not much room for disaster here due to the length. Most importantly, signs point to JT being a solid bet to stave off major decline for at least a bit longer, and he not only fills a hole at third and is a much-needed consistent right-handed bat to the lineup, but also provides stability with regards to clubhouse leadership.