When you think of the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers this decade, the undisputed answer is Clayton Kershaw. But after that, the lovably unkempt visage of Justin Turner has to be next. How could it not be? Turner’s only been with the Dodgers for five years, but it feels like it’s really been 15.
Since he was plucked off the scrap-heap in February 2014, every season of his evolution from a nameless utility player to the scraggly “Ginger Jesus” has given Dodgers Nation one memory after another. With each passing year, JT has defied the odds with statistical muscle and October feats that have provided the foundation of a historic run of success.
In 2015, he set a franchise record for doubles in a postseason series and hit .526 in the NLDS. In 2016, his arching triple to center provided the winning margin in a 4-3 nailbiter in NLDS game five. In 2018, he averted a 2-0 NLCS deficit with a go-ahead two-run homer in game two in MIlwaukee, and willed a walk-off in game four with his rally ruler. This year, he hit his 100th career home run.
Most majestic of all was 2017. His last-minute fan vote into the All-Star Game was not only the well-earned coronation of his improbable ascent from obscurity; it made him the cover boy for Sports Illustrated too. Then, on October 15, 29 years to the day of Kirk Gibson’s limp-off, he smoked a pitch from John Lackey into Keith Hupp’s glove in game two of the NLCS to effectively send the team back to the World Series at long last.
He’s even more invaluable to fans off the field, giving back to the community through the Justin Turner Foundation, which funds homeless veterans, youth baseball programs, and children battling life-threatening diseases. On top of that, he and his wife Kourtney make frequent hospital visits. On January 22, these efforts were recognized by the Los Angeles City Council when they christened that very date Justin Turner Day.
— David Vassegh (@THEREAL_DV) January 22, 2019
JT is exactly the kind of player you want to have around forever. But that’s the fickle part about falling in love with your baseball heroes: the more you love them, the harder it is when the door shuts on their career. That’s even tougher when injuries start to mount, to the point where they limit playing time and lead to the inevitable decline in skill.
It’s unbelievably hard to excel in the majors, and even harder to sustain it for a decent amount of time. But it’s *especially* hard to play near or at an elite level until the very end. Even a lot of the best players you can think of had at least a few seasons towards the end where they simply faded away. There are some who were great to the last drop, like Craig Biggio and Chipper Jones, but they are exceptions to the rule.
In the past couple of years, Turner’s impending baseball mortality has been increasingly hard to ignore. As of this writing, he continues to be hampered by a sprained ankle that is cause for concern. He missed a huge chunk of the 2018 season due to a fracture, not being able to join the team until May 15. Top that off with the fact that he turns 35 in November, and the urgency of potentially replacing him – or at least putting a contingency plan in place – is impossible to ignore.
So, what should the Dodgers do? This upcoming offseason presents two enticing avenues to solve this conundrum. The first is the Anthony Rendon free agency sweepstakes, in my view the best possible route. Rendon is one of the best all-around talents in baseball, and is finally getting recognition with an obscenely great 2019 season. As of this writing, he leads MLB with 119 RBI and a .333 average.
Better yet, Rendon is hitting the market in his prime, as he turns 30 next June. Especially with lots of money coming off the books, the Dodgers will be in an ideal place to sign him.
6-year, $168m ($28m AAV) for Anthony Rendon to Dodgers. Who says no?
Probably Rendon, but, like, that's not how this works today.
— Clint Pasillas (@realFRG) September 15, 2019
While their aversion to taking the big contracts of Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper was admittedly vindicated, Rendon feels like a can’t-miss, and the bidding will be high as Washington will (or at least should) throw everything they can to keep him.
The second option is a potential trade for Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. While he was extended in February, Colorado might be in dire need of starting over, which could make dealing him for a king’s ransom a smart move. But after a rookie class that’s largely vindicated the Dodger front office’s refusal to trade top prospects, it would make more sense to just pony up the cash for Rendon.
Even a superior replacement like either of those two couldn’t exceed what Turner means to Los Angeles on a cultural level. His spirit, his dedication to this franchise and the city…those can never be replaced. He’s a player whose story and heroics will inspire and be celebrated for many years.
Yet no level of emotional attachment can blunt the physical toll the game takes on a given player. Justin Turner’s time in Los Angeles has been a treasure, and it’s not over yet. If he can somehow mitigate his injuries, he could very well carry his magic into his late thirties. 2019 has witnessed a renaissance for veteran pitchers, there’s no reason the same can’t happen for position players too.
But one of my guiding philosophies in life is to be too safe rather than even the least bit sorry. Turner’s increasing fragility and 2021 free agency, paired with two elite 3B options this offseason, is forcing the Dodgers to make a move to ensure the hot corner remains secure without interruption.