I know what you’re thinking: Doesn’t Los Angeles Dodgers leader Justin Turner have a team option for 2023 attached to the end of his two-year, $34 million current contract? And isn’t this supposed to be a marriage that lasts through the end of Turner’s career?
Sure. Possibly. But after the tail end of 2021 Turner experienced, there’s a good chance that 2022 is his final season as LA’s bonafide starter at third base, and that the two sides rework a cheaper deal for 2023 if Turner would like to return as a roving backup and 90-game starter.
After all, MLB insiders are already speculating Turner might be a surprise trade piece. There’s a reason for that.
Though JT’s base salary in Year 1 of his new deal (2021, after he was lured away from the Brewers) was just $8 million, it leaps to $16 million this season ($17 million against the luxury tax). We believe he’ll likely stay and play out his contract, even though that number is onerous, because he’s more valuable to the Dodgers than any other team right now.
His 2021 season looked a lot like his best years on the surface. Turner smashed 27 homers, posted a 123 OPS+, and played in 151 games at the age of 36. By the end of the season, though, his numbers looked a lot more fatigued and dubious; he posted just a .241 average with 12 homers after the break, following a .305 mark with 15 bombs in the first half. In August, he hit just .216, and he posted August and September OBPs of .306 and .315.
Of course, this all culminated with a painful-looking Grade 2 hamstring strain that knocked him out of the playoffs and forced him to be carried down the dugout steps.
So, how much longer will Turner be able to hit — and man the hot corner — at an All-Star level? We’d bet he sticks around for 2022, but if the negative trends begin screaming a bit louder, the Dodgers could look to move on from Turner as an everyday player at the end of the season, at the very least nabbing insurance at other positions that could eventually take some reps at third base.
Dodgers could replace Justin Turner with these four options after 2022.
4. Dodgers Trade for Matt Chapman
If the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to try to plunder the Oakland A’s and grab a pitcher this offseason, they might want to also inquire about Matt Chapman?
Considering rumor has it the New York Yankees are eyeing Chapman for their shortstop vacancy and plan to have conversion conversations, the Dodgers could theoretically entertain the same thing, then slide their newfound Gold Glover over to third whenever Turner’s time is up.
At the moment, LA’s depth chart looks a little wonky. Chris Taylor has been penciled in at second, but without Max Muncy in the lineup to begin the year, Cody Bellinger might have to play first, sending CT3 right back to the outfield. Gavin Lux is an option, but in that case, there’d be no line of defense behind him. And what about the Universal DH? And the fact that Trea Turner played a hefty amount of second base last year after arriving and positionally clashing with Corey Seager?
LA could snag and stash Chapman at second base or short for the time being … or they could just install him at third right away, moving Turner to either DH (if Muncy can handle regular reps at first base upon his return) or first.
The one thing you don’t want to do is hide Chapman’s defensive skills on the bench. He’s a power bat with swing-and-miss issues (202 Ks last year), but even in a down season, he nearly matched Turner’s WAR (3.5 to 3.7) by playing a mean third base.
If acquired, Chapman would be controllable through 2023, and could of course be extended if the fit works out — he’s just 28 years old.
He’s not our favorite trade option, though.