The Toronto Blue Jays have a potential hole at third base. Free agent Justin Turner might check a lot of boxes
Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase
The Toronto Blue Jays need a third baseman. It is possible that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might be the solution, but he appears to be still fighting his way up the learning curve. So – at a minimum – the Jays would need a fallback plan. And ideally, they could use far more than that.
It would of course be possible for the Blue Jays to make a pitch for an uber third baseman like Matt Chapman of the A’s or José Ramírez of Cleveland. Dreams are good! But there is no guarantee that players of that calibre are available, and even if they were the prospect cost might be daunting. Alternatively, Toronto could gamble on a bounce-back candidate like Travis Shaw. Travis had a terrible 2019, and started slowly in 2020, but in the last 30 games of the 2020 season he appeared to have returned to his 3+ fWAR 2017-18 form.
Or the Blue Jays could go another direction.
Suppose that the Jays thought that Vladdy (and his 60-grade arm!) had the potential to one day be an average or better defensive third baseman. But suppose further that, based on his poor defensive 2019 and his struggles in the Dominican Winter league, the team was uncomfortable handing him that 3B gig going into 2021. Both because his struggles could cost the team a couple of key wins, which could mean the difference between playing baseball and golf in October, and because if Vladdy were to struggle to the point where he lost confidence it could permanently affect his development at third.
So what would the Blue Jays need?
Ideally, they would want to sign a veteran third baseman. That veteran 3B would be good enough – with the glove and the bat – to play perhaps 100-120 games at third, giving Vladdy 30-40 (and possibly a half-dozen to Cavan Biggio or Bo Bichette, just for flexibility). He should be (or have been) a well-above-average defensive third baseman, because one of his primary roles would be to tutor Vlad. And he should be willing to DH for ~40-50 games per year (something a younger player might resent). Ideally, he would be a legitimate weapon in his own right – not just a placeholder. He should be good enough to contribute for 2-3 years, until the Martins and Groshans are ready – and by “contribute”, I mean at a playoff team level. And he should come at a limited prospect cost and/or a reasonable cash cost (with no qualifying offer).
Let’s talk about Justin Turner.
Turner is a free agent without a qualifying offer (he was given a QO in 2016, and players can only be QO-ed once). He is projected to earn 2 years and $24 million, but is said to be looking for a 3+ year deal. He can hit – from 2018-20, his 142 wRC+ was 11th in baseball. And his defense at third is still acceptable, with a +4 OOA in 2019 (though he did worse in a very small sample in 2020). But when he was younger, he was a well-above-average defender. In 2016, his +9 DRS at third was 6th in baseball (behind names like Arenado, Beltre and Rendon).
Of course, no player is perfect. Justin would play 2021 at age 36, so a three-year deal would take him through his age-38 season. It is entirely possible that, by then, he would be a full-time DH (or possibly a first baseman). But if he could maintain anything close to a 142 wRC+, he would still be a bargain at $12m per. There is also the question of the incident in the 2020 World Series, where despite a positive Covid test he ran back on to the field to celebrate his team’s win. Not the smartest thing to do, but possibly forgivable given the emotion of the moment?
I could see the Blue Jays telling Vladdy that he could start the year playing 2-3 games per week at third, and working with Turner to improve his game. Sometimes players take advice from other players – particularly veterans they respect – more readily than from coaches. When Vlad is at third, Turner would be DH-ing. Otherwise, Turner would play third. Either way, the Jays would have another excellent bat in the lineup – and another contender to lead off (Turner’s OBP of .397 over the last 4 years is 6th in baseball).
The bottom line
Sometimes a player can have exceptional talent but not be a great fit for the specific needs of a particular team at a particular time. Turner is not only an excellent player, but arguably an excellent fit for the Jays as they stand right now.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.