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Dodgers Should Plan for the Decline of Justin Turner

Nothing lasts forever.

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in action during a spring-training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Camelback Ranch on March 3, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

When you think of the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers this decade, the undisputed answer is Clayton Kershaw. But after that, the lovably unkempt visage of Justin Turner has to be next. How could it not be? Turner’s only been with the Dodgers for five years, but it feels like it’s really been 15. 

Since he was plucked off the scrap-heap in February 2014, every season of his evolution from a nameless utility player to the scraggly “Ginger Jesus” has given Dodgers Nation one memory after another. With each passing year, JT has defied the odds with statistical muscle and October feats that have provided the foundation of a historic run of success. 

In 2015, he set a franchise record for doubles in a postseason series and hit .526 in the NLDS. In 2016, his arching triple to center provided the winning margin in a 4-3 nailbiter in NLDS game five. In 2018, he averted a 2-0 NLCS deficit with a go-ahead two-run homer in game two in MIlwaukee, and willed a walk-off in game four with his rally ruler. This year, he hit his 100th career home run. 

Most majestic of all was 2017. His last-minute fan vote into the All-Star Game was not only the well-earned coronation of his improbable ascent from obscurity; it made him the cover boy for Sports Illustrated too. Then, on October 15, 29 years to the day of Kirk Gibson’s limp-off, he smoked a pitch from John Lackey into Keith Hupp’s glove in game two of the NLCS to effectively send the team back to the World Series at long last. 

He’s even more invaluable to fans off the field, giving back to the community through the Justin Turner Foundation, which funds homeless veterans, youth baseball programs, and children battling life-threatening diseases. On top of that, he and his wife Kourtney make frequent hospital visits. On January 22, these efforts were recognized by the Los Angeles City Council when they christened that very date Justin Turner Day. 

JT is exactly the kind of player you want to have around forever. But that’s the fickle part about falling in love with your baseball heroes: the more you love them, the harder it is when the door shuts on their career. That’s even tougher when injuries start to mount, to the point where they limit playing time and lead to the inevitable decline in skill. 

It’s unbelievably hard to excel in the majors, and even harder to sustain it for a decent amount of time. But it’s *especially* hard to play near or at an elite level until the very end. Even a lot of the best players you can think of had at least a few seasons towards the end where they simply faded away. There are some who were great to the last drop, like Craig Biggio and Chipper Jones, but they are exceptions to the rule. 

In the past couple of years, Turner’s impending baseball mortality has been increasingly hard to ignore. As of this writing, he continues to be hampered by a sprained ankle that is cause for concern. He missed a huge chunk of the 2018 season due to a fracture, not being able to join the team until May 15. Top that off with the fact that he turns 35 in November, and the urgency of potentially replacing him – or at least putting a contingency plan in place – is impossible to ignore. 

So, what should the Dodgers do? This upcoming offseason presents two enticing avenues to solve this conundrum. The first is the Anthony Rendon free agency sweepstakes, in my view the best possible route. Rendon is one of the best all-around talents in baseball, and is finally getting recognition with an obscenely great 2019 season. As of this writing, he leads MLB with 119 RBI and a .333 average. 

Better yet, Rendon is hitting the market in his prime, as he turns 30 next June. Especially with lots of money coming off the books, the Dodgers will be in an ideal place to sign him.

While their aversion to taking the big contracts of Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper was admittedly vindicated, Rendon feels like a can’t-miss, and the bidding will be high as Washington will (or at least should) throw everything they can to keep him. 

The second option is a potential trade for Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. While he was extended in February, Colorado might be in dire need of starting over, which could make dealing him for a king’s ransom a smart move. But after a rookie class that’s largely vindicated the Dodger front office’s refusal to trade top prospects, it would make more sense to just pony up the cash for Rendon. 

Even a superior replacement like either of those two couldn’t exceed what Turner means to Los Angeles on a cultural level. His spirit, his dedication to this franchise and the city…those can never be replaced. He’s a player whose story and heroics will inspire and be celebrated for many years. 

Yet no level of emotional attachment can blunt the physical toll the game takes on a given player. Justin Turner’s time in Los Angeles has been a treasure, and it’s not over yet. If he can somehow mitigate his injuries, he could very well carry his magic into his late thirties. 2019 has witnessed a renaissance for veteran pitchers, there’s no reason the same can’t happen for position players too. 

But one of my guiding philosophies in life is to be too safe rather than even the least bit sorry. Turner’s increasing fragility and 2021 free agency, paired with two elite 3B options this offseason, is forcing the Dodgers to make a move to ensure the hot corner remains secure without interruption.

Written by Marshall Garvey

29 Comments

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  1. Don’t give up on him so fast. There are also other infielders on the team who could maybe be moved. Muncey, Lux, Beaty, Seager etc. We probably will need another front line pitcher depending what happens with Ryu and Hill.

    • I’m not giving up on him, just thinking ahead as best I can just in case. He’s still potent when health, but again, it’s hard to ignore the injuries.

  2. Justin is one of the kindest Dodgers. A super likable nice guy and his contributions to this team have not gone unnoticed. Lets hop he can play a few more years as a Dodger.

  3. I would not be so quick to write Turner’s epitaph. He’s a proven asset on the field and in the dugout.

  4. Too premature. You’re talking about a player with an OPS+ of 131 and a career high 27 HRs like his production has disappeared because he sprained his ankle. Sure we’ll see a drop in performance over the next few years but it’s a tad early to suggest the Dodgers forfeit a chunk of financial flexibility to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Let Beaty and Taylor – who don’t really have spots – rest him regularly.

    Besides if the Dodgers signed either of the guys you mentioned who are you going to sit? Muncy? JT? Lux? Seager? Nah – better to wait for Hoese.

    • One thing is also the battle for playing time with some of these players. I would suggest as well to keep JT on, even if eventually it means a role similar to David Freese on the club. But I give Turner credit certainly for all his contributions and most important is that he can hit BOTH RHP AND LHP and except for occasional days off does not have to be platooned because of bad splits.

    • With Lux there’s always the possibility of more time in the minors, but I am happy to be wrong and just have this current setup continue, with JT comfortably nestled at third. His production hasn’t gone down, but you just never know when the decline will hit. Regardless, there is no shortage of options to keep the infield secure internally and externally.

  5. Not a fan of arenado, he is an average player away from Coors field. If he moves teams his offense will suffer a great deal.

    If you can lock up a guy like Rendon for 6 or fewer years you do it and worry out where everyone fits later. He is a top 5 player in the league. Better and more consistent than both Harper and Machado.

    I love Turner, but you have to take into consideration he has missed 220 games in his Dodger career and only played more than 131 games once. He is still the heart of the Dodgers. There is room for both on the team.

      • Excellent points, AZUL!!!! Big Red is a Dodger favorite, and I am one of his biggest supporters. He is a consumate Dodger, and if it means as you suggest above, taking a role similar to Freese, that is fine with me. Turner is a stiuational hitter whose bat has pop!!!! He fields well and gives 100%. And, he does standout community service work. Go Blue!!!!

      • Dodgers can afford anyone they want but will they want to spend it is the question and I highly doubt it as they will say things about flexibility .. Dodgers too concerned about luxury tax and that’s silly with the money this club takes in..

    • Thank you! I know not everyone agrees with this article but again I’m approaching from the perspective of “play it super safe.” Rendon is spectacularly underrated and could be a “steal” although he’ll be expensive. I’m fine with passing on Arenado, especially with the prospect price.

  6. I agree that we should go after a replacement for Turner at third. My feeling is that the Dodgers should move Turner to a less demanding position to save his legs. I would still sign Turner and try to keep him for the rest of his career.

    • One thing I noticed with Turner is how often just routine throws to First or Second are off, you would think he’d spend some time practicing. I bet others noticed

  7. The point missed here is Turner’s clubhouse and community outreach. How do you replace that? Turner, and Kershaw run the Dodgers clubhouse and community activities. The team is turning younger. These youngsters need to follow in Kershaw and Turner’s footsteps, not only on thew field. This is the Dodger way. Keeping the community attached is why the Dodgers are so popular. Even during their mediocre season, they had us mesmerized. Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda and Vin Scully carried the torch for how long? That person needs to step up in these younger kids.

  8. Seriously you’re going to include an injury due to being hit by a pitch? Justin seems to be a target for some teams pitchers. If you cant beat him…bean him. I really believe your take on his career demise is premature.

  9. Everyone seemingly putting the cart before the horse .Let’s get thru the season , playoffs , hopefully the big show W.S. So much time yet need to focus on this year.

  10. How dare you speak about JT that way…he’s got a sprained ankle right now…so WHAT?! Watch him once again move the team to another WS bid

  11. This one is easy. Move Will Smith to third base. He has quick reactions, a cannon arm, and plays bunts super well. The only reason Smith is not a third baseman right now is because they used to worry that his bat wouldn’t play at third base. But that’s no longer an issue. Moving him to third is actually better for his longevity. Then you call up Keibert Ruiz. Even if Ruiz somehow doesn’t pan out, you still have guys like Cartaya and Wong waiting in the wings.

  12. I agree with you, Lisa. As I was watching the wrap-up, of the “Pre-Game” Show, for tonights game; The announcers made a “CLEAR” Statement. Justin stated; “If it was A Playoff Game, HE WOULD, be in.

  13. I’m a long time Dodger fan, which means I always wonder what direction they want to go, do we want more hitters or pitching and defense…getting Rendon would certainly make the dodgers better offensively (I’d rather see him batting for us then agaist us) but we really are not making positive moves to solidify our late inning pitching problems. We lost to the Astros because they picked up Verlander (we got Darvish, nuff said),Welost to Boston cuz we had no one that could get that elusive third out…Hate to say it, but we need studs back there or we’ll be bridesmaids again.

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