It shouldn’t be.
As Houston Mitchell of the Times reminded me in his morning newsletter, Justin Turner could be playing his final game in Los Angeles as a Dodger tonight. Should the Dodgers beat the Brewers and advance to the National League Division Series, their remaining games will be played not in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, but in Arlington, Texas. After that, Turner becomes a free agent.
And then, ideally, he’s right back here again next year.
I wrote about this situation a number of times in 2018 when Clayton Kershaw was eyeing free agency in 2018. These two articles in particular are relevant:
- Why ‘Dodger for life’ looks good for Clayton Kershaw
- Clayton Kershaw and the value beyond a World Series
Turner’s situation isn’t quite the same, because he isn’t a future Hall of Famer and because he hasn’t played his entire career with the Dodgers. Of course, pretty much every meaningful moment of that career has been in Dodger white and blue (and gray, with red trim). Plus, in contrast to Kershaw’s Lone Star State homestead, Turner’s roots are thoroughly local. The marriage between Turner and the Dodgers was made in heaven — Blue Heaven on Earth, to be precise — and regardless of the contract expiration date, there’s no reason for a divorce now.
Even if the Dodgers are able to supplant Turner at third base over the next few years with someone like Edwin Ríos (as promising as he is, that’s a big if) or by shuffling a current starter to the hot corner, there’s no reason that Turner couldn’t become the next version of Chase Utley or David Freese — the eminence grise who would remain a leader in the clubhouse at the same time he’s a threat in critical situations. And if, as expected, the NL adopts the designated hitter permanently, there’s even more potential value in the Dodgers keeping Turner.
So, yes, this will come down to money in one respect. Turner turns 36 in November, with his durability in question, and so there aren’t many more big paydays coming his way. There won’t be a repeat of his current four-year, $64 million deal. But after a season in which he actually raised his adjusted OPS slightly compared with 2019, he’s still worth real money. And there might be other teams with a greater need for him that would offer the best salary. Meanwhile, the Dodgers not only have Mookie Betts to pay into the next decade, they have other free agents to consider, including Kershaw and Corey Seager a year from now.
On the other hand, Turner is Turner, and the Dodgers are the Dodgers. No combination of team and city could have more meaning for each other. Maybe the Dodgers won’t need Turner in 2021 as much as another team, but that doesn’t mean Turner makes more sense for another team than the Dodgers. That he has won the Dodgers’ Roy Campanella Award for spirit and leadership a record-setting three times and is once again the franchise’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee speaks volumes to his investment in our community and his importance to it.
Maybe the games of October will shed more light onto this situation, but short of an extraordinary event (good or bad), I’m not sure how they would need to. As tonight’s game begins, I’ll prepare myself that it might be the last time I see Justin Turner emerge from the third-base dugout at Dodger Stadium with that pine-tar stain on his left shoulder, Toomgis hair and bright smile. But I can’t help thinking that we’ll see him here again next year — hopefully with us able to cheer him on in person.