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Dave Roberts on Justin Turner: ‘I’ll take him for as long as I can have him’

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Turner, a free agent, is “one of the Dodger greats,” says Roberts

National League Championship Series Game 6: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Aside from pitcher Jimmy Nelson returning on a minor league contract, none of the Dodgers free agents have signed anywhere yet. Manager Dave Roberts made one thing clear on Thursday: if it were up to him, he’d like third baseman Justin Turner to return.

“He’s one of the Dodger greats, he really is,” Roberts said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “His body of work is really special, unique, but it’s a two-way deal. It’s the organization, the Dodgers, but it’s also Justin and his family, they’ve got to make a decision. But selfishly, I’ll take him for as long as I can have him.”

Turner has been one of the best hitters in baseball since joining the Dodgers in 2014, hitting .302/.382/.503, a 141 wRC+ with 116 home runs and 177 doubles in seven seasons. He’s only had one season under a 130 wRC+ since joining Los Angeles (it was 123 in 2016, when he hit 27 home runs). Turner also turned 36 in November, which makes a long-term contract less likely.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reported last week that Turner was seeking a three-year deal. The Blue Jays have reported interest in Turner, per both Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic and Jon Heyman, though seemingly every report on Turner notes that his most likely destination is a return to Los Angeles.

In November, Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Chances are, interested teams won’t offer a deal with more than two guaranteed years.” Given that Turner hasn’t signed anywhere yet suggests that has proven true to date.

Roberts on Thursday said Turner and his wife Kourtney are traveling now, and when he last spoke to Turner, on December 4, they did not discuss Turner’s free agency.

“I just really feel that’s a decision for him and his wife,” Roberts said. “He’s going to kick the tires on whatever opportunities present themselves, but you know how much I value him as a person and as a player.”

This echoes what Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register last week:

“He has put himself in this position to be a free agent and go through it and figure out what is best for him and Kourtney (Turner’s wife). We respect that. It’s hard to speculate on looking forward. … But obviously, he was a big part of our success in 2020 and he’s the type of person and player that I think is easy for a team to bet on.”

Notes

All 30 MLB managers this week held Zoom conference calls, akin to what would have happened at the winter meetings, which were canceled this year. That was the backdrop for Roberts’ media session on Thursday. Here are some other highlights from his half-hour:

Roberts said a right-handed bat and relief pitching was on the Dodgers’ to-do list this offseason. Turner would satisfy the former, and for the latter, Roberts said, “We lost some leverage guys to free agency, so to backfill I think would be great.” Current free agents Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, and Jake McGee accounted for 30 percent of Dodgers batters faced in the seventh and eighth innings in 2020.

Cody Bellinger, who had surgery to repair his dislocated right shoulder, is ahead of schedule and rehabbing at Camelback Ranch. “What that means, I don’t know,” Roberts said. “For him to be ready to be somewhat active at the start of spring training, that’s kind of the hope.

Asked if he was 100-percent sure David Price would return to pitch in 2021, Roberts said he didn’t know. “David is very in tune with what’s going on. He’s very intelligent,” Roberts said. “I just love being around him, and I know we’re better when he’s with us. But as things become more clear, David will make a choice for him and his family.”

That last part is key, considering that it is still unknown what protocols MLB players and staffs will be subject to once the season starts, and/or how widespread a vaccine is available by then. Price, who has two years and $64 million remaining on his contract, has stated in multiple interviews that he’s looking forward to pitching in 2021, after opting out of the 2020 season. Even earlier Thursday, when asked about pitching next year, Price expressed a similar sentiment.

As for when the 2021 MLB season might start, Roberts said, “Right now we’re expecting to start spring training on time, and play a full slate of games, and I’m confident we’ll get through it.”

Roberts said the Dodgers are proceeding as if there won’t be a designated hitter in the National League in 2021. “If we do end up with one, that’s gravy,” he said. “We kind of used it as a half-day rest for players. Those everyday guys rotate in and out, which actually proved beneficial.”

As for minor league signees Brandon Morrow and Nelson, both of whom have pitched only sparingly in the last three seasons due to injuries, Roberts said getting them healthy was paramount before determining their role. “It’s good to know that guys like [Brandon] and Jimmy want to come back here, because they believe in the people in this organization,” he said.