In an interview on Sportsnet’s ‘Blair & Barker’ show last week, Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette name dropped two guys he thought the Blue Jays could sign as “veteran bats that can really help out, not just on the field but off the field as well.”
Justin Turner and Bichette are both currently represented by the same agency, Vayner Sports, so the comment raised some eyebrows. Monday night, former MLB infielder Carlos Baerga took the rumours up a notch with an Instagram post that said in Spanish, “Justin Turner reached an agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays” and that it could be announced as soon as today.
Obviously nothing has been finalized, and Baerga has been wrong before on players coming to Toronto, including Freddie Freeman. But, using the mosaic theory, this plus the Bichette comment qualifies as smoke.
Recall that it was Baerga who was first on the Yariel Rodríguez signing with Toronto, so let’s give some credence to this rumour. MLB Insider Jon Morosi also tweeted out Monday that the Blue Jays “have sincere interest in free agents J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner.”
Turner is 39-years old and will be entering his 16th MLB season, trumping even Brandon Belt, who was in his 13th season last year with Toronto. So he would definitely bring experience to the clubhouse and off the field. Turner is a two-time All-Star, and won the NLCS MVP award in 2020 in helping the Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series that year.
He spent 9 years with Los Angeles before joining Boston on a two-year, $21.7M guaranteed contract ahead of last season. However, the deal gave him a $13.4M player option for the upcoming season, which he opted out of last November in favour of a $6.7M buyout. His base salary last season was $8.3M, and he earned another $1M in incentives. But with the buyout, he’ll only need a contract with Toronto worth more than the $6.7M he gave up by opting out of the Boston deal to come out ahead.
Turner can still rake, with 23 home runs and 96 RBI last season, to go with a .276/.345/.455/.800 slash line and OPS+ of 114. Importantly, he can mash right-handed pitching even if he isn’t another left-handed bat. In 462 plate appearances against RHP in 2023, he hit 15 home runs with 72 RBI and a .273/.336/.430/.766 slash line.
And the Green Monster doesn’t explain all of his power: while 12 of his home runs and 47 RBI were at Fenway, 11 homers and 49 RBI came on the road, although his batting average was .293 in Boston versus .258 away. And his numbers were close to his career averages of .288/.363/.465/.829 and OPS+ of 125. He’s also had five MLB campaigns with 20 or more home runs, including 23 last year, and 27 in each of the 2019 and 2021 seasons.
While he’d likely spend more time as a DH in Toronto, he can also still play the field. Turner played 289.1 innings at 1B last year, posting a DRS of +3 which compares with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s DRS of -6. Turner also played 49 innings at 2B (0 DRS) and 57 innings at 3B (DRS of -3).
As per his Baseball Reference Bullpen page, “In addition to his distinctive red beard and red hair, Turner is known for a distinctive stain on his uniform, on the back of his shoulders. It comes from resting his pine-tar-stained bat on that precise spot as a matter of course while preparing for an upcoming at-bat.”
He’s also someone who young stars like Bo Bichette can look up to, both on the field and off. If he can fill the Brandon Belt role for a year at a similar $9.3M salary Belt had in 2023, he should improve the Blue Jays lineup even if he does hit from the right-side. And while he’s not an upgrade at 3B, like Belt, he should be able to spell Guerrero at first base for as many as 50 games.
Assuming Turner signs for $8~10M, the Jays luxury tax payroll would - depending on where Vlad’s contract comes out in arbitration - rise to about $258M, which would be bang in-line with their 2023 level. That certainly jives with what team president Mark Shapiro said after the season: “I don’t expect a dramatic philosophical shift in payroll. I expect us to stay in the same area.”
So as the Blue Jays lineup for 2024 continues to take shape, it’s looking like Ross Atkins may have found that one bat he said he was still looking for when he last spoke with Jays media earlier this month. Whether more additions like Matt Chapman, Cody Bellinger, Jorger Soler, J.D. Martinez or the left-handed hitting (and Toronto born) Joey Votto could still be added remains to be seen, but Justin Turner would in the very least be one significant addition.