Justin Turner speaks on frustrating trip through free agency

The newest roster addition is speaking out about the drawbacks of MLB's economic system

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Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages
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Justin Turner is your newest member of the Toronto Blue Jays and he should be a valuable presence on and off the field in 2024. The manner in which he landed in the Blue Jays’ nest, however, is causing him and many others to raise eyebrows about a system that may no longer be working for baseball.

Free agency is supposed to be a joyous time for baseball players, most of whom have labored through years of hard work to finally make lots of money. This winter, not unlike other winters, observers are looking around in bewilderment at the fact that so much premium talent remains unsigned. Are players setting unrealistic demands in their requests or is it teams shying away from acquiring potential game-changing talents?

Turner’s issue is with the number of top free agents still on the market, inadvertently inserting himself into a contentious debate playing out around the sport this winter. Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Turner said, “It’s frustrating, obviously, for the guys in the free agency class. It’s frustrating for a lot of teams around the league trying to figure out where some of these guys are going to go. It’s kind of a little bit of a black eye on baseball.”

Turner demurred on a specific solution he would propose, noting it's above his pay grade. He wondered about the merits of a so-called “signing deadline” meant to encourage free agent activity, telling Davidi, "If their backs are against the wall and they’re up against deadline, are they going to get the best deal in free agency that they could? Maybe not. We just don’t know how that would look.”

In response to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred floating a similar signing deadline proposal, player agent Scott Boras said, “Deadlines are death lines to the players. It’s a death of their right…It’s an artificial reason not to get your value.”

Turner also hit on another particularly salient issue in his scrum with reporters when he said, “It’s definitely not fun, trying to figure out where you’re going to stay, trying to figure out where my wife and the dogs are going to be, in a safe area. I have a newfound respect for guys that have to do that every year. It’s definitely a challenge.”

What does all of this mean? For one, Turner is lucky to be a part of the class of players who signed their contracts early enough to know where they will be living next season.  It certainly helps that Turner has an established track record of production that an acquiring club can rely on, even as this will be his second straight one-year free agent deal for his fifth MLB team.

Truthfully, most of these unsigned players will eventually get signed because they need to make a living. Additionally, it's not like there has been no free agent activity and no one is moving. It's the top guys who dominate all the headlines. According to Sportico, teams have still spent $2.6B on 118 free agents just as spring training games are set to get underway. The National League champion Arizona Diamondbacks have been active while clubs with questions about their regional broadcast networks have delayed/postponed their winter spending. Does it hurt the sport that teams can’t market these players earlier in the winter at events like a Winter Caravan or Fanfest? Yes, but everyone will forget about that if Blake Snell is posting Cy Young-worthy stats for your favorite team in July.

These comments from Turner, Red Sox manager Alex Cora and others are important and should increase fans’ knowledge about the issues. However, as evidenced between the Manfred and Boras statements, none of these ideas about a signing deadline are likely to be implemented in the current climate. The two sides will have to sit down and determine if there is anything they can do to improve the economic viability of the sport. Salary cap? Salary floor? Revenue sharing? These are problems best resolved for another day, but they are not unimportant. Credit to Justin Turner for speaking up about something that most players would shy away from.