When Noah Syndergaard chose the Dodgers in free agency, he referenced how “everything they touch turns to gold.”
The Dodgers have developed a remarkable penchant for getting the most out of players looking to recapture their old form, turn their careers around or find a level of play previously unseen. It goes for pitchers and position players alike, from Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney last year to Max Muncy and Chris Taylor in years prior.
But there may not be a better poster child or catalyst of the phenomenon over the past decade than Justin Turner, who was cast off by the Mets after the 2013 season before overhauling his swing and becoming one of the Dodgers’ all-time great third basemen.
Turner was worth 0.7 wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference) across four seasons in New York before getting non-tendered. The Dodgers signed him to a minor-league contract with a spring-training invite in February 2014. Over the next nine seasons, he accumulated 34 bWAR while serving as a pillar in his local community. His tremendous efforts with the Justin Turner Foundation were rewarded this year when he won the Roberto Clemente Award.
Now, the Southern California native is moving on after agreeing to a two-year deal worth nearly $22 million with Boston.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers had expressed a desire to bring Turner back, but losing him was always a possibility after they declined his $16 million club option and paid him a $2 million buyout. The Dodgers and Red Sox have, in essence, swapped designated hitters. The Turner news broke not long after the Dodgers inked J.D. Martinez to a one-year deal.
Strictly on the field, there were more costly departures. Trea Turner, one of the most coveted shortstops in free agency, signed a massive 11-year deal with the Phillies. Anderson, an All-Star for the first time this year and the Dodgers’ 2022 leader in innings pitched, went down the highway to the Angels.
But in an offseason of considerable change for the Dodgers, there may not be a more significant exit than Justin Turner, considering his leadership and what he meant to the team and the city over the past decade.
Turner departs as the Dodgers’ all-time postseason leader in games played, hits, doubles, home runs, runs and RBIs, statistics that signify both the franchise’s sustained success over his tenure with the team and the third baseman’s contributions toward making that success possible.
He changed his career with the Dodgers, going from a light-hitting utility player in Baltimore and New York to one of the most reliable hitters in the heart of the Dodgers’ order. After hitting a combined eight home runs in 318 games between the Orioles and Mets, he launched 50 in his first three seasons with the Dodgers. He went on to become one of three Dodgers third basemen in the 100-homer club along with Ron Cey and Adrian Beltre, as well as a member of the franchise’s 1,000-hit club. He averaged a 133 OPS+ in Los Angeles and was an above-average hitter in each of his nine seasons with the franchise.
He also had a knack for taking his game up a notch when it mattered most. In 2017, he hit one of the most memorable home runs in Dodgers postseason history when he walked off the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with a three-run homer, knocking in all four Dodgers runs in a 4-1 win. The blast came exactly 29 years to the day of Kirk Gibson’s iconic World Series walk-off against the A’s.
Turner, a Lakeview native who won a College World Series championship at Cal State Fullerton, still remembers exactly where he was as a kid at his grandmother’s house when Gibson hit that fist-pumping homer. The memories made his own mark in Dodgers postseason lore all the more special.
He was in that position after making the decision to re-sign with the Dodgers while at Kenley Jansen‘s wedding in Curacao in December 2016. Both Turner and Jansen signed their new long-term deals that month, and both players played key roles in the Dodgers’ three trips to the World Series from 2017 to 2020.
Now, both are in Boston (Jansen left the Dodgers last year). Former MVP Cody Bellinger is in Chicago. Trea Turner is in Philadelphia. A youth movement is soon to begin, as prospects such as Miguel Vargas, James Outman and Bobby Miller get set to make an impact. It’s an offseason of significant turnover in Los Angeles, one unlike most during the Dodgers’ sustained stretch of winning and one that comes after a shocking early playoff exit marred a franchise-best 111-win season.
The departures have outweighed the additions as the Dodgers attempt to defend their division crown while also resetting their luxury-tax penalties. Even after signing Syndergaard and Martinez and re-signing Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have lost about nine net wins in free agency based on last season’s FanGraphs WAR totals:
Trea Turner: 6.3 fWAR
Tyler Anderson: 4.0
Justin Turner: 2.4
Cody Bellinger: 1.7
Andrew Heaney: 1.1
Chris Martin: 1.6
Tommy Kahnle: 0.0
Noah Syndergaard: 2.2
JD Martinez: 1.0
Shelby Miller: 0.4
Clayton Kershaw: 3.8
J.P Feyereisen: 1.0
Yonny Hernandez: -0.3
The additions of all the Dodgers’ free agents combined (8.1 fWAR) don’t equal the value of just the two Turners (8.7).
Even at 37 years old last season, Justin Turner remained an above-average hitter. But the imprint and impact he left in Los Angeles goes far beyond his clutch hitting. He is the only three-time winner of the Roy Campanella Award, given to the Dodger who exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame catcher and voted on by players and coaches. He even had a day named after him by the Los Angeles City Council in 2019 as a result of his philanthropic work.
When the pandemic hit, Turner began buying meals from local restaurants to distribute to kids who had been relying on hot lunches that schools usually provided.
“I think we provided close to one million meals over an eight-month period,” Turner said while accepting the Clemente Award this year. “So, whenever there’s a need in the city of Los Angeles, we’re open to jump into it.”
That, as much as anything, will be Turner’s lasting impact and a void not easily filled.
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Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.
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