Blue Jays Bet $13 Million That Justin Turner’s Still Got It

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Turner, the longtime Dodgers stalwart and kind of guy who makes you wonder when “professional hitter” stopped being a baseball idiom in common usage, has a new gig. After one season in Boston — moderately successful for him, less so for his team — Turner is moving west to Toronto, where he’ll make $13 million this season, with the chance to earn an additional $1.5 million in bonuses and incentives.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you probably saw the news that Turner would be sharing an infield (and/or a DH spot) with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and thought, “Wait, didn’t Turner come up with the Orioles around the same time Guerrero père was winding down his career there?” And sure enough, he did. But Turner isn’t just so old he played with his new teammate’s dad. He’s so old he played four years of college, got drafted, spent three seasons in the minors, played parts of two seasons in the majors with the Orioles, and got traded away before his new teammate’s dad even got there.

Turner just turned 39, which is still 39 years old in Canada after you account for the exchange rate. I checked. That’s relatively young for someone who spent their young adulthood working on a humanities PhD while all their friends were starting families and getting established professionally. (You’ve still got your whole life ahead of you! I believe in you!) But it’s old for a ballplayer. Particularly a ballplayer on a contract that indicates he’s meant to be a key contributor on a playoff team.

Turner is so old he played his college baseball on the same Cal State Fullerton team as Chad Cordero. Together, they (along with Ricky Romero, for those Blue Jays fans who are reading this and wanted to remember some guys) made it to the 2003 College World Series. Here are some select players they encountered in the NCAA Tournament that year.

Some Players Justin Turner Encountered En Route to the 2003 College World Series
Player Team Last MLB Season
Sam Fuld Stanford 2015
Ryan Garko Stanford 2010
Carlos Quentin Stanford 2014
Jed Lowrie Stanford 2022
Brian Wilson LSU 2014
Dustin Pedroia Arizona State 2019
Andre Ethier Arizona State 2017

Yes, that’s Sam Fuld, who’s currently entering his fourth season as an MLB GM. And Brian Wilson, who introduced the baseball world to beard dye and bondage gear an astounding 13 years ago.

Of course, if Turner were not old enough to have regularly used a portable cassette player, he would not have been available to the Blue Jays for only $13 million. In his early 30s, Turner was a regular 140 or 150 wRC+ guy, legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball.

In 2023, he hit .276/.345/.455, which is a wRC+ of 114. Being a right-handed hitter and playing his home games at Fenway Park, you might think his offensive environment flattered him a little. Not so: Turner had a 116 wRC+ on the road and a 113 wRC+ at home. He also crushed left-handed pitching, to the tune of .285/.372/.528, which is a wRC+ of 142. Turner, though, is clearly not going to be a short-side platoon bat. Between Guerrero, Springer, Bo Bichette, Alejandro Kirk, and what the hell, let’s throw Danny Jansen and Davis Schneider in there too, you could argue that Toronto’s six best returning hitters are all right-handed anyway. Not that being heavily right-handed has ever bothered Toronto before.

Turner’s bat has been slipping for the past four years or so — both in terms of results and in terms of quality of contact — but he was starting from such a high standard he still has a ways to fall before he’s no longer useful.

Justin Turner, Past Five Years
Year wRC+ HardHit% Barrel%
2019 131 43.2 7.6
2020 138 44.0 11.2
2021 126 42.4 7.9
2022 124 40.6 8.0
2023 114 38.7 5.7
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Offensively, a player like Turner is going to keep hitting until he gets so old his bat slows down. And that could happen gradually — as it seems to be doing — or it could all collapse at once. If you went out looking for a worrying sign, I would point to his performance against four-seamers, which was below average in 2023 for the first time since Baseball Savant started keeping track of those stats. Against velocity specifically, Turner isn’t as good as he was five years ago, but that too seems to be a gradual decline.

Justin Turner vs. 95-Plus mph
Year Pitch % BA OBP SLG wOBA xwOBA
2019 13.0 .277 .360 .415 .335 .353
2020 15.0 .182 .357 .227 .290 .392
2021 14.8 .239 .337 .432 .335 .338
2022 19.1 .192 .316 .231 .260 .298
2023 19.7 .231 .328 .317 .294 .298
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Grading Turner on offensive potential alone, getting him for between $13 million and $14.5 million on a one-year deal is fine. I’d probably rather have Rhys Hoskins, Jeimer Candelario, or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at their respective AAVs, though those players all got multi-year guarantees. So did Mitch Garver, who would’ve carried an additional inconvenience for Toronto: Namely that the Blue Jays need another bat-first catcher like they need a poke in the eye.

What Turner offers is the ability to contribute defensively in a way that Hoskins and Gurriel can’t. Toronto is set at catcher, at DH, and in the outfield, but has holes at second and third base, two positions Turner played for Boston last year.

Do you want Turner to play there? Um, no. He’s one of the slowest players in baseball, and his advanced defensive metrics are so bad I want to apologize for the things I thought about Jorge Polanco’s glovework when news of his trade to Seattle broke on Monday night. But I guess you can hand Turner a glove and put him on the dirt if you want to badly enough.

Between Turner, Schneider, Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the Blue Jays can probably cobble something together. John Madden once said, “If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none.” But the great man said nothing about what happens when you have five third basemen.

Signing Turner, it bears mentioning, takes the Blue Jays over the payroll figure they landed at last year, and back into the realm of the competitive balance tax for a second consecutive season. Out of context, Turner’s $13 million salary means nothing, and the Blue Jays going over the tax threshold doesn’t mean all that much more. Because Turner will probably be a useful offensive player, but his lack of baserunning and defensive value… well, it’s why he’s going to end up making less than Toronto’s outgoing third baseman, Matt Chapman — a fellow Fullerton alum, which is an amusing curiosity. Turner has outhit Chapman every year dating back to Chapman’s debut in 2017, but he’s given back a good chunk of that offensive value with the glove more often than not.

The question is not whether Turner can help the Blue Jays. Obviously he can. It’s whether the Blue Jays are signing Turner in addition to someone who could help them more, or instead of someone who could help them more.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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Mario Mendozamember
3 months ago

Unlike Turner, your witty writing never gets old

MikeDmember
3 months ago
Reply to  Mario Mendoza

And in fairness, Turner is not hitting like he’s old. Not yet.