Boston Red Sox Free Agent Targets: Justin Turner
The BoSox Injection staff looks at players available on the free agent market that the Boston Red Sox may have interest in this offseason.
The Boston Red Sox made tremendous progress in 2016, climbing out of the basement of the division to win the AL East. This worst-to-first turnaround can partially be attributed to moves that the front office made last winter to upgrade the roster, but the team’s early playoff exit shows us that further upgrades are needed.
There will be holes to fill on this Red Sox roster if the team intends to take the next step toward the ultimate goal of a championship. While there are many avenues the team can take to improve, free agency will be a primary focus for a Red Sox team willing to spend.
Up next in our free agent target series is Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.
Why he fits
Boston entered the postseason with question marks surrounding the hot corner, ultimately settling on Brock Holt as their starter at third base. The Brock Star doesn’t provide the power teams count on at the corner infield spots and his versatility remains his greatest asset, which means the Red Sox are unlikely to be content with locking him into an everyday starter at the position. If they look externally for an upgrade, Turner represents the best available third baseman on the free agent market.
The 31-year old is coming off of a solid season in which he hit .275 with an .832 OPS, both of which put him inside the top dozen among major leauge third basemen. His 27 home runs and 90 RBI both ranked 10th at the position, an accomplishment made more impressive given that he played half his games in one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in baseball.
He provides an above-average glove, averaging 6 defensive runs saved over the past three seasons, while showing the versatility to fill in at multiple other infield positions.
Turner produced 4.9 WAR in 2016, which ranked 7th in the majors at his position and easily puts him ahead of any other free agent third baseman. MLB.com’s ranking of the top 25 free agents actually puts Turner at the top of the class based on their projection of 3.5 WAR for the 2017 season. That seems to be a conservative prediction based on what he’s done over the past three seasons, but he should be expected to regress some over the course of his next contract. While his age could be factor, it should be noted that all of the players ranked in the top six on this list will be over 30 years old to begin next season.
Why he doesn’t fit
The Red Sox already have a number of canidates to cover third base, including Holt, Travis Shaw and Pablo Sandoval. While none of those options are particularly appealing, the team may be hesitant to sink more money into the position while they still carry Sandoval’s bloated contract.
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They may be content to let their internal options battle it out for playing time, especially with Yoan Moncada waiting in the wings. After the organization transitioned their top prospect to third base this year, it’s clear he is the future of the position in Boston. Therefore it makes little sence to sign a high profile free agent to a multi-year deal to serve as a roadblock to the promising young prospect.
Even if the Red Sox are intent on upgrading immediately at third base, Turner still comes with risk. While he’s the best available hitter at the position, it’s notable that he’s declined in batting average, OBP and OPS in each of the past three years, which isn’t a trend that’s likely to reverse at his age. Despite the downward trajectory of his slash line, the 27 home runs he hit this year were by far a career high. We can’t count on him delivering that kind of power every year going forward, even if he does move to a more hitter-friendly park.
Will they sign him?
Signing Turner would appear to be a short-sighted attempt to improve a weak spot on the roster. Shaw and Sandoval aren’t going anywhere, so brining in another third baseman only creates a logjam that results in a wasted roster spot.
The Red Sox could conceivably sign Turner and use a combination of Shaw and Sandoval in the designated hitter spot, but that would seem to be a backup plan to consider only if they strike out on the top sluggers on the market, such as Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo. Even in that scenario, there’s still the issue of Turner blocking Moncada, who comes with sky-high potential despite a rocky debut where he was exposed against big league breaking balls.
Dave Dombrowski may kick the tires on Turner, but he’s not among the team’s priorities and he’s unlikely to get into a bidding war with the deep pockets of the Dodgers.
Interest Level: Lukewarm