Justin Turner has been one of the best third basemen in the National League since joining the Dodgers in 2014.
Over the past six seasons, the 35-year-old owns a slash line of .302/.381/.506 with 112 home runs. 383 RBI, one All-Star nod, and three top-15 finishes in NL MVP voting.
As impressive as those numbers may be, Turner’s rise to stardom was far from expected prior to signing with Los Angeles.
A former seventh-round draft pick of the Reds in 2006 out of Cal State Fullerton, Turner’s stay in Cincinnati’s farm system did not last long, as he was part of the trade that sent veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez from Baltimore to the Reds in December 2008.
Making his major-league debut with the Orioles the following September, in a game against the Red Sox, Turner went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and did not do much in a limited role the remainder of the 2009 season.
The 2010 campaign marked a period of turbulence for Turner. He was called up and sent down by the Orioles on three separate occasions before being designated for assignment on May 21st of that year.
Four days later, the Long Beach native found himself a member of the New York Mets after the club had claimed him off waivers, and he reported to Triple-A Buffalo.
Turner got his first real crack with New York in April 2011, and he emerged as a solid utility player who could come off the bench and play multiple positions around the infield.
In terms of bWAR, Turner’s 2012 season was just about identical to what he did in 2011, albeit in 23 fewer games. His 2013 season, in which he was limited to 86 games due to a hamstring injury, was even better using that same metric, but the Mets made the ultimate decision to non-tender the infielder that December rather than pay him the $800,000 he was projected to earn in 2014.
“Don’t assume every non-tender is a function of money,” ex-Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said at the time when asked about Turner being released by New York. Apparently, there were reports that Mets brass questioned Turner’s motivation and lack of hustle.
Despite those reports, Turner was a coveted minor-league free agent in the months following his release. The Red Sox were one of those teams that were interested in his services.
Per WEEI’s John Tomase, who now covers the Red Sox for NBC Sports Boston, former Sox general manager Ben Cherington made a “hard push” to land Turner, and the two sides nearly agreed to a deal. That is, until the Dodgers and Ned Coletti came calling.
“I had to make a decision by midnight or the next morning and the Dodgers called that night,” Turner told Tomase prior to the start of the 2018 World Series. “At the time, it was between the Red Sox and the Twins. Obviously Boston was a world class organization with a lot of good young players and a general manager that expressed his interest in really wanting me to be here. There were a lot of good things coming out of it. I was honestly getting excited about it and looking forward to it.”
With that excitement for Turner also came concern in how the Red Sox utilized their role players under then-manager John Farrell. The Dodgers, meanwhile, showed more of a willingness to use bench players, as would be expected from most National League clubs.
“One of the deciding factors between Boston and L.A., Don Mattingly used his bench players a lot,” Turner said. “You look at Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker and Michael Young all having 300 at-bats the season before as utility players. And then you look at the Boston bench guys having 70 at-bats, 80 at-bats.”
The opportunity to play more, as well as the chance to remain in the National League, ultimately won Turner over, and he inked a minor-league pact with the Dodgers that February.
““Going into free agency that year, my main goal was to stay in the National League for the opportunity to be a utility guy and still get to play,” he said. “So when the Dodgers came into the picture, that kind of answered the question for me, made it not as difficult a choice, although I was excited and looking forward to possibly being a Red Sox.”
As previously mentioned, Turner went onto blossom into a star third baseman with Los Angeles and is now entering the final year of the four-year, $64 million extension he signed in December 2016.
Having failed to sign Turner in 2014, Cherington went out and made a big splash later that same calendar year by bringing in free-agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval on a five-year, $95 million contract.
Sandoval flopped with Boston, and was ultimately designated for assignment and later released on July 19th of the 2017 season. At that same time, Turner was fresh off making his first career All-Star team.
The Red Sox have since found their third baseman of the future in the form of 23-year-old Rafael Devers, but it’s still interesting to look back and wonder what ripple effects signing Turner could have had on the club in 2020 and beyond.