Friday, January 27 2023

One of the most coveted members of this year’s star-studded free-agent shortstop was, quite recently, a tertiary part of a noteworthy midseason deal. 

When the Dodgers sent a plethora of prospects to the Nationals at the 2021 trade deadline to rent Max Scherzer for the remainder of the season, they also obtained a middle infielder who continued building on the elite tools that will almost certainly lead him to a nine-figure deal this offseason. 

Trea Turner, who spent four-plus seasons as the Nationals’ starting shortstop, bumped over to second base upon joining the Dodgers in August 2021, allowing Corey Seager to stay at his preferred spot. Turner made the transition rather seamlessly, posting above-average defensive metrics despite his lack of experience at the position, a testament to the versatility of the only player in baseball other than Aaron Judge to be worth at least 20 wins above replacement (per FanGraphs) over the last four seasons. 

After leading the majors in hits, batting average and stolen bases in 2021, Turner returned to his more comfortable spot at shortstop this season and became the only Dodgers player ever at his position to log 20 homers, 20 stolen bases, 100 runs and 100 RBIs in a single season. He was the only major-league player at any position to reach those totals this year. 

In a rich free-agent class of shortstops — one that also includes Carlos CorreaXander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson — Turner’s combination of speed and hitting distinguish him from the field. He has averaged a .311 batting clip and 131 OPS+ over the past four seasons while stealing more bases than any player over that period. 

Turner may not have been the centerpiece of the Dodgers’ deadline deal a year ago, but any team wanting to obtain him this offseason will certainly have to treat him as one. That much was made clear by actor Jon Hamm, who lauded Turner’s accomplishments in a sales pitch sizzle reel prior to free agency. 

Turner led the majors in hits in both 2020 and 2021 before finishing second in the category this season in a second straight All-Star campaign. He earned his first Silver Slugger Award this year despite searching for answers at the plate for much of the second half. 

“I’m trying to make adjustments to get back to where I was last year,” Turner said in September. “I feel like I’ve been making adjustments based off my swing from this season, and now I’m trying to kind of make adjustments to get back to my swing from last season.”

Turner realized his issues were primarily related to his timing. He began getting his front foot down earlier toward the end of the season, and that yielded more positive results. He homered in his final game of the regular season before going 6-for-18 with four extra-base hits in the National League Division Series. 

While his hard-hit rate dipped and chase rate increased this season, any blemishes in his game were relative given his overall production (.298/.343/.466). Turner never went more than three straight games without a hit, his strikeout rate was never particularly alarming and his speed helped avoid prolonged droughts. He holds each of the Dodgers’ four longest hitting streaks — and the team’s only three 20-game hit streaks — since the start of the 2021 season, despite not joining the team until August of that year. 

At 29, Turner is slightly older than Correa and Swanson, but the speed and smoothness of his game don’t appear to be waning. He ranked fifth in the majors in sprint speed at 30.3 feet per second in 2022. His 21 home runs, while down from his career-high 28 last year, were the second most of his career. 

Turner felt more comfortable this season back at his normal position. He told FOX Sports in August that the change in scenery getting traded to Los Angeles didn’t impact him offensively, but playing second base was a challenge. Shortstop is unquestionably his preference. 

“Feels so much better,” Turner said. “I feel like I know what I want to do, how to improve. When I make a mistake, I kind of feel like I know what I did wrong and what to practice to kind of fix those mistakes, whereas at second base you’re kind of learning everything all over again, which isn’t really fun.”

Still, he demonstrated he was more than capable of handling either middle infield spot. He also has experience early in his career in the outfield, which could help ease a team’s mind as it weighs whether or not to make Turner the richest shortstop in this year’s free-agent class. 

Swanson was easily the best defensively of the group this season — his 21 outs above average led the National League — though he doesn’t offer Turner’s offensive upside. 

Bogaerts is arguably the most reliable hitter of the group but is also the oldest of the top free-agent shortstops at 30 years old. This year was the first time the four-time All-Star graded out above average defensively at shortstop in his 10-year career. He doesn’t offer Turner’s athleticism, something that could be even more coveted when shifts are banned and bases are expanded next season. 

Correa has arguably the highest ceiling and potential for superstardom of the group, but his floor is also lower than Turner’s. Correa has three seasons with an OPS+ over 130 and two seasons with an OPS+ under 100 over the last five seasons. He graded out below average defensively this year (-3 OAA), a considerable drop-off from his norm after a Gold Glove season in 2021 in which he led all major league shortstops in defensive runs saved. 

Related: Where do this year’s top shortstops rank on our rankings of MLB’s top 30 free agents?

Turner also wasn’t a defensive standout this year, committing a career-high 16 errors and struggling defensively in the NLDS. He hasn’t been able to replicate the tremendous defense of his 2018 campaign (+12 OAA, +8 DRS), but he has graded out at least average defensively since then. Plus, his durability — the only two games he missed this year came after the Dodgers wrapped up the division — and offensive prowess should mitigate any long-term concerns in the field. 

Turner had a 162 OPS+ in 2020 and a 146 OPS+ in 2021, making him one of only three shortstops over the last three years (along with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Seager) to hit at least 45 percent better than league average for a season. This year, he thrived in each of the top three spots in the lineup, setting himself up for a considerable pay raise from the $21 million he made this season with the Dodgers. 

It’s possible he returns to Los Angeles — something he hasn’t ruled out — though the Florida native and NC State alumnus is sure to have suitors on the East Coast. 

Unlike other positions, the Dodgers don’t have a ton of young options at shortstop if Turner is to walk. The most obvious replacement is Gavin Lux, though he has graded out considerably better at second base than shortstop. Their best defensive shortstop prospect, Jacob Amaya, still may need more polishing offensively before he debuts. 

Whether internally or in free agency, the Dodgers will be hard-pressed to find an option at shortstop with a better combination of athleticism, reliability and production than the dynamic player they’ve watched first-hand the past two seasons. 

Turner has considered it, too. 

“You do it every once in a while, [thinking] what would it be like, obviously, playing here for a lot longer,” Turner told FOX Sports in August. “Who the heck knows what’s going to happen, but I would love to be here. That’s step one, is wanting to be here, and I definitely could see myself playing here.”


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