The Dodgers on Thursday declined the $16-million club option on Justin Turner, making the third baseman a free agent. Turner will receive a $2-million buyout, part of the two-year, $34-million contract he signed with the Dodgers before the 2021 season.
There’s a case to be made Turner is the best minor league free agent the Dodgers have ever signed, joining his hometown team as a non-roster invitee in 2014. What followed was nine years of above-average production, with at least a 123 wRC+ in every season with the Dodgers, and Turner topping the franchise leaderboard in several postseason categories.
Turner made $16 million in 2022, the final year of his latest contract, while hitting .278/.350/.438 with a 123 wRC+, 36 doubles and 13 home runs.
He also won the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors the player for both on-field play and off-field philanthropy. Turner was the Dodgers’ nominee in five of the last six years. On a Zoom call before getting presented with the trophy, Turner said he hadn’t yet heard from the Dodgers regarding his option.
“I’m as aware of my contract status as you guys are,” Turner said on October 29. “I’m just in limbo, waiting to hear what’s going to happen.”
Per the collective bargaining agreement, all options must be exercised or declined within five days of the World Series. During the regular season, the Dodgers worked out contracts for three veteran players who all had club options, guaranteeing the 2023 salaries for Max Muncy, Blake Treinen, and Daniel Hudson while tacking on another option year. They did not do so with Turner.
On November 3 in an interview on the Roggin and Rodney Show on AM 570, Turner reiterated that he hadn’t yet heard from the team but expressed a desire to return.
“I definitely want to continue to play,” he said. “I’m hoping everything works out and it’s in a Dodger uniform because obviously, I’ve spent the last nine years here, my career has taken off here, our foundation has been doing wonderful things here, and we want to continue that.
“It’d be great to end my career as a Dodger. But things don’t always go as planned. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do still feel like I love playing the game. I love showing up every day. I love the teaching aspect of it, spending time with the young guys and spending time in the cage talking about it. The way my second half went, I definitely know there’s more in the tank, and I want to keep going.”
Turner started his 2022 season hitting just .217/.290/.344 with an 80 OPS+ in 69 games, through June 29. But after that, he hit .349/.419/.549 in his final 59 games, with a 174 wRC+. But he also turns 38 in November and started nearly as many games at designated hitter (61) as at third base (66) this season.
Declining the option doesn’t preclude Turner from returning. It’s entirely possible the Dodgers try to retain him on a new deal, perhaps rather than the $14-million difference between his option salary and buyout.
Andrew Friedman told reporters at the GM meetings in Las Vegas on Tuesday that bringing Turner back was “a proirity” for the Dodgers. From Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register:
“We’re still working through our payroll and other needs and trying to balance everything together as much as we can to figure out what that looks like. That’s what we’re working on right now.
“The priority is that we show up in Glendale and for him to be a part of what we’re doing next year. What exactly that looks like, we need time to work through.”
The Dodgers earlier in the week declined the 2023 options of Hanser Alberto, Jimmy Nelson, and Danny Duffy. With Turner now a free agent, the Dodgers’ 40-man roster now has 33 players.