Justin Turner alerted the baseball universe of his return to Los Angeles. Pending a physical, the Vayner Sports client will re-sign with the Dodgers for two years, $34MM with a $14MM team option for a third year. The deal includes an $8MM signing bonus and built-in escalators that could raise the overall value of the deal to $52MM over three years, conditional to MVP voting.
Turner returning to the Dodgers hardly counts as a surprise, though the scuttlebutt of late had pushed the narrative of a possible departure. Whether he actually came close to signing with the Brewers or another club is unclear. What we know is that Turner will return to the franchise where he made his name, became a superstar, fan favorite, and World Champion. The 36-year-old third baseman was an All-Star in 2017 and earned down-ballot MVP votes in each of 2016, 2017, and 2018. For his career, he owns a .292/.369/.469 line with 124 home runs and 29.5 bWAR thus far.
His career famously started slow, however, as he languished through most of his twenties as a contact-first reserve infielder for the Orioles and Mets. As he arrived in Chavez Ravine, he brought with him just a .260/.323/.361 slash line over 926 career plate appearances. Perhaps most notably, he had shown almost no signs of power through his age-28 season with a meager .101 ISO.
The tale turned rapidly in LA as Turner slugged a revelatory .340/.404/.493 line, 158 wRC+ in 2014, his first season with the Dodgers. The change was prompted by a swing change that he’d begun work on during this final season with the Mets, but it was only once he headed west that the results followed. Turner has to this point produced 98.0 percent of his career bWAR since donning Dodger blue as a 29-year-old.
The relationship has benefited both sides, of course, as Turner has grown into a centerpiece of a dominant era of Dodger baseball. They have won the National League West every season that Turner’s been stationed at the hot corner and finally broke through to win the World Series last year – their third season as pennant winners together.
In returning, Turner is able not only to help defend their title, but to move together beyond an uncomfortable moment on the national stage that took place, unfortunately, at the crowning moment of the Turner/Dodgers partnership. Turner was pulled late in the clinching game of their World-Series-clinching win because of a positive coronavirus test. Turner nonetheless returned mask-less to take part in the post-game celebration.
The dilemma put upon Turner, the Dodgers, and the league were no doubt trying considering the amount of work Turner had put into his career up to that point. He is, after all, not only a gregarious and popular superstar on one of the league’s preeminent franchises, but he is a symbol of perseverance for the game, its young players and its fans. Nevertheless, it was an unfortunate disregard of protocols on the national stage.
Turner will add another chapter to his Dodgers’ career. In returning to defend their title, Turner joins an arguably even more star-studded team that the one that defeated the Rays in six games last fall. With the addition of NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to the rotation, as well as former AL Cy Young David Price, who opted out of 2020, the Dodgers boast one of the more decorated rotations in recent memory. All-time great Clayton Kershaw remains at the top with young phenom Walker Buehler. Julio Urias, who closed out the World Series, rounds out their likely starting five.
With two big-ticket additions in Bauer and Turner, the Dodgers payroll climbs just north of $252MM, though it’s closer to $157MM when it comes to the luxury tax, per Fangraphs. Per Spotrac, the Dodgers are the only team in the Majors currently over the first luxury tax line of $210MM. At present, the Dodgers not only blew past the first threshold, but since they’re more than $20MM beyond, they will face an additional 12 percent surtax on top of the initial 20 percent tax rate. The Dodgers ducked the tax rate by roughly $4MM last season. Despite prorated salaries, the luxury tax figure accounted for full-season salary levels in 2020.
More to come…
Turner tweeted news of his return himself tonight, though Jorge Castillo of the LA Times (via Twitter) chipped in with confirmation. Jeff Passan of ESPN (via Twitter) first had the deal in the $30MM range, while MLB Network’s Jon Heyman provided the specific two-years, $34MM number, and the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal added the club option for 2023 and $8MM signing bonus, as well as later specifics. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times contributed to dollar value of the team option (via Twitter).