Should the Dodgers extend Justin Turner?

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Justin Turner
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Justin Turner /

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Justin Turner need to work out a contract extension to keep “Red” in Dodger blue beyond the 2020 season.

The marriage between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Justin Turner has been a fruitful one, to say the least. A chance meeting on the free agency wire led to a minor league deal and a love affair for the ages.

Now, both spouses need to decide if they want to keep the family together after this season.

Turner is no stranger to the nomadic nature of baseball. After all, he had already been part of the MLB draft, a trade, the waiver wire, and non-tendered within his first seven years in the league. He’s had brief flirtations with Cincinnati Reds, the Baltimore Orioles, and New York Mets.

But it wasn’t until he found the Los Angeles Dodgers did Turner truly find what he was looking for.

The meeting between the Dodgers and Turner was happenstance. Then Dodgers’ hitting coach Tim Wallach ran into Turner at a Cal-State Fullerton Alumni softball game, and after seeing him hit, asked if he had found a new team. The Dodgers then inked him to a minor-league deal on February 6, 2014.

Turner would make 109 appearances for the Dodgers in 2014, hitting a solid .340/.404/.493 with nine home runs and 43 RBI. He would finish the season with a 3.4 fWAR and a career-best wRC+ of 158.

2015 would see more of the same with Turner slashing .294/.370/.491 with 16 home runs, 60 RBI, 3.9 fWAR, and a 141 wRC+. However, 2016 (at the age of 31), would see Turner tap into his power, slugging 27 home runs and driving in 90 runs while hitting .275/.339/.493 with an fWAR of 5.0.

Justin Turner had officially arrived.

Recognizing what they had found, the Dodgers signed Turner to a four-year, $64 million extension two days before Christmas in 2016. He’s rewarded them by slashing .307/.397/.519 with an average of 21 home runs and 63 RBI over the first three years of the deal. That includes an All-Star appearance and a cumulative fWAR of 13 in that span.

The Dodgers should extend Justin Turner

Now with the deal heading into its final season, the Dodgers and Turner face an interesting decision.

Turner will be 36 in November, an age when most baseball careers start to head south. However, as a late bloomer, he doesn’t have nearly as much mileage as some of his peers and his game has not shown much of a slide. His offensive game has been as potent as ever, with Turner tying his career-high in home runs (27) during the 2019 season.

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If there is one area where Turner is sliding, it is on the defensive side of the ball. After experiencing his best season at third base in 2016, where he rated highly with nine defensive runs saved, a UZR/150 of 11.3, and an RngR (range runs above average) of 6.5, he has graded negatively in the latter two for the past three seasons.

A slide should be expected as a player ages, but it puts a cap as to how long he can be expected to stay at his natural position. It also represents a point where the Dodgers should look to have a potential replacement.

However, Turner has shown that his abilities on the diamond and his character in the clubhouse still make him a valuable member of the Dodgers team moving forward. As such, the two parties should ultimately come to an agreement on an extension to keep him in Chavez Ravine.

What does an extension look like between the Dodgers and Justin Turner?

Justin Turner will make $20 million in the final year of the extension he signed in 2016. According to Spotrac, that would rank him 42nd in baseball in terms of individual yearly salary in 2020. That doesn’t fall too far away from his ranking in regards to overall fWAR for the 2019 season (54th). Likewise, FanGraphs has figured that Turner has never had a value rating (when converting fWAR to actual dollars) below $25 million since joining the team in 2014.

In other words, the Dodgers have gotten much more value out of Turner over his six seasons in Los Angeles than they’ve had to pay him.

That still leaves the question as to what an extension should look like for one of the most valuable players on the team, albeit an aging one. To really dig into that, maybe we need to compare Turner to a former Dodger.

When the Texas Rangers and Adrian Beltre signed a two-year extension in 2016, it was to effectively to ensure that he finished his career in a Rangers uniform. At the time, they agreed to an $18 million annual salary for his age 37 and 38 years.

Turner will be a full year younger than Beltre when his deal comes around, but it provides an interesting framework for comparison. Beltre gave Texas only $31.5 million worth of value over that final two-year span, but he had also been worth well north of his salary in the years prior. Turner hasn’t represented the overall value of Beltre heading into his contract, but his age and health history also plays a factor here.

By signing Turner to a two-year deal (perhaps even with a mutual option year), at the current rate of $20 million per season, would likely still return value to the Dodgers. It would also represent a solid reward for a player that has become synonymous with the current team’s success.

The deal makes sense to Los Angeles on a few other points as well. The free agent class of third baseman in 2021 lacks any viable options and while trade options like Nolan Arrenado are likely available, the Dodgers aren’t apt to part with the trade package required to land him, let alone from a division rival. Likewise, the team’s top prospect at the position, Kody Hoese, just finished his first season of professional baseball at High-A. Even as a former college player and the potential of an accelerated climb through the minors, he isn’t likely to be MLB-ready for at least two seasons at the earliest.

The two-year deal route makes the most sense from a Dodgers’ standpoint, and the third-year option gives the team flexibility if Hoese takes longer to develop or if Turner’s production warrants a third season.

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It’s a win-win for both parties and keeps one Dodger Faithful’s favorites in town for the foreseeable future.