There's lots of little things you need to fill out the back end of a roster that you assume are always available. Rosterbaters throw in nebulous "prospects" to make trades work, there's always enough cheap arms to fill out the back end of the bullpen, and of course there's gonna be someone you can sign to sit on the end of the bench and play up the middle a couple times a week. So when Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker left for greener/redder pastures early in the offseason no one really cared.
As the weeks went on the Dodgers still failed to sign a utility guy and the market for what we thought was an infinite resource looked mighty thin. Dodger fans went from "we're gonna get Chris Getz, that's such a Ned signing. Ha ha!" to "we seriously need to consider picking up Yuniesky Betancourt." After seriously facing the possibility that the Dodgers would have to carry Chone Figgins and Brendan Harris on the 25-man, the Dodgers were finally able to snag Justin Turner on a minor league deal just before pitchers and catchers reported.
If you look at Turner's numbers, he seems like a steal. Over the past three seasons with the Mets Turner has played every position in the infield while doing some decent work with the bat. Turner's 96 OPS+ since 2011 ranks him 54th out of 114 second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen with at least 800 plate appearances. Even better, some of the names that surround him on that list like Stephen Drew, J.J. Hardy, and Jimmy Rollins at least have the reputation of being good players. Why on Earth were teams not willing to take a chance on Justin Turner in a world where Luis Cruz found a job after OPSing under .400 with the Dodgers and the Blue Jays are starting something called Ryan Goins at second?
The first big thing is that Turner's defensive versatility is more of a product of the sad state of the Mets middle infield since the departure of Jose Reyes rather than an indication of talent. By all accounts he shouldn't be playing shortstop for any reason other than Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon getting mangled in a defensive mishap1. His glove at second received more mixed reviews from Mets fans I trust ranging from "mediocre" to "at least he's not Daniel Murphy". Turner really should be thought of more as a corner infielder that can play up the middle if he really has to rather than a true utility guy.
Even with his defensive shortcomings, it's surprising the Mets non-tendered Turner. He's a competent weapon off the bench, and he makes next to nothing which makes him Fred Wilpon's ideal player. When asked why Turner was sent packing Mets GM Sandy Alderson only had a cryptic "don't assume every non-tender is a function of money" as a response. Later, an anonymous source made things clear: Turner was cut due to a lack of effort. There's certainly some juice to this story, since on paper almost every team could use a guy like Turner yet no one was willing to bite. When you're a fringe major leaguer and there's a lot of guys right behind you that could do your job, Turner not being willing to put in the effort could be what buries him.
In the end, Justin Turner is the guy we're stuck with because there's no better options, but sometimes you just need a guy like that to fill out the team. He's probably going to play more than we'd like him to due to the multitude of questions in the Dodger infield, at best we'll describe him as "mayonnaise: the player", and he's probably gonna go out there and give it 60-70 percent. There's one thing we can all agree on though, at least he's not Brendan Harris.
Justin Turner for a while used "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen as his walk-up music. Between this and his predilection to go to the barber and say "give me the Pennywise" his jokes above replacement is off the charts2.
Turner is currently signed to a minor league deal. When he makes the team, he'll receive one million dollars plus some minor incentives. Turner has three years, 45 days of service time, so the Dodgers could have control over his rights until the end of the 2016 season if they want to keep him around.
|2014 projections - Age 29 season|
Turner will receive the Skip Schumaker memorial 300 uninspiring plate appearances where he hits .255/.305/.360. What do you think?
1. Odds of this happening at some point: 91%↩
2. Hey I just met you/and this is crazy/but we got Turner/so let's not play Dee↩