Passing on Todd Frazier, Dodgers show commitment to Justin Turner
By Jon Weisman
From the Dodgers’ perspective, today’s three-team trade with the Reds and White Sox was about picking up three 24-and-under players who have already had a taste of the Major Leagues.
But in an unmistakable way, it was also about a player who wasn’t part of the trade at all — Justin Turner.
It’s funny now to remember when the 2015 season began, Turner was still a utility reserve. After hitting an astonishing .340/.404/.493 in 2014, Turner certainly had a higher profile than your average backup. Nonetheless, Turner started only five games out of the Dodgers’ 21 in April, at four different positions. He had all of two starts at third base, where in essence, he was a third-stringer behind incumbent Juan Uribe and hot-hitting Alex Guerrero.
Starting at third base on April 19, Turner went 4 for 5 with three doubles. His next start at third base came May 1.
But it was in that month the changing of the guard began. It wasn’t night and day, but Turner’s playing time increased, particularly at third. In 61 plate appearances through May 25, Turner had a .426 on-base percentage and .600 slugging percentage, while Guerrero cooled off and Uribe all but froze, with five singles and two walks in only 30 plate appearances.
While Uribe’s slump wasn’t destined to be permanent, the bearded red-head had removed all doubt about his ability. Uribe was traded to Atlanta, to accommodate his desire to play, and free third base up for Turner.
Despite a trip to the disabled list in late July to solve a MRSA infection, Turner made 78 more starts in 2015, except now all but four of them were at third base (Three gave first baseman Adrian Gonzalez a rest.) Turner finished the regular season with a .370 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage, then went nuts in the National League Division Series, going 10 for 19 with a team-record six doubles — despite playing on a knee that would require offseason surgery.
Speaking today about the trade, Andrew Friedman indicated that the Dodgers had extensive discussions about Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, who has hit 64 home runs the past two seasons but ultimately went to the White Sox. Why didn’t the Dodgers get Frazier?
Because they already had their third baseman.
“Todd’s obviously a really good Major League player, really good third baseman,” Friedman said. “We happen to think we’ve got a really good third baseman as well and really like Justin Turner.”
It’s not just that the Dodgers had a warm body in the hot corner. Though Frazier’s homer totals were higher in 2015, Turner surpassed him in adjusted OPS (138 to 117) and weighted runs created (141 to 114).
Frazier ranked higher defensively — in fact, according to Fangraphs, nearly half of his value this year was in his defense. But his defensive metrics have fluctuated throughout his big-league career. For the Dodgers, it didn’t make sense to start moving pieces around the diamond.
“With JT coming off knee surgery, we felt it was in everybody’s best interest to have him locked in at third,” Friedman said. “We actually talked about acquiring Todd and playing him at a different position, but just felt like there was a chance for that to be messy.”
Instead, the Dodgers locked in on the third baseman they had, the third baseman who practically came out of nowhere in 2014 and still had an uncertain role only seven months ago. Turner had established enough value that the Dodgers could make a move for prospects at three other positions, prospects who have already had their cups of coffee and could contribute in one way or another as soon as the coming season.
Justin Turner is not only a good guy, he’s the Dodgers’ guy, and it’s well-earned.