Expectation is a dangerous prospect. In the wrong hands, it can be debilitating, a crippling weight, a promise broken by potential, a level never reached. In the right hands, however, expectation can be a beautiful motivator. This afternoon, when the Philadelphia Phillies signed free-agent shortstop Trea Turner to an 11-year, $300 million contract, they showed just what kind of hands are guiding the organization.
Turner, whose deal includes a full no-trade clause and no opt-outs, is one of the most dynamic players in all of baseball and considered by many to be the crown-jewel of this year’s free-agent class. After parting ways with Didi Gregorious and Jean Segura, the Phillies had a massive hole in the left side of the infield. They filled it with perhaps the best shortstop in Major League Baseball. An already star-studded lineup just added a supernova. The Phillies are the reigning National League champions, contenders in the sport’s best division, and the newest members of baseball’s elite. In signing Turner, the organization made a statement not only to the rest of the league, but to their fanbase as well: for the first time in a long time, the Phillies are operating from a place of strength, not weakness. And in baseball, much like in life, better decisions are always made from a place of strength.
At the outset, Turner’s contract seems like a ludicrous number. That’s because it is – even in the age of superstars, Turner is only one of ten players in baseball with a contract of $300 million or more. In actuality, however, $300 million allotted over 11 years is a completely reasonable price for the 29-year-old shortstop. The signing was one of the shrewdest of Phillies front-office star hunter extraordinaire Dave Dombrowski’s career – not only from a baseball sense but a financial standpoint as well. Even though the deal takes Turner through his age-41 season, it holds an average annual value of $27.27 million – less than his $300 million or above cohorts Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor and less than his predicted AAV of $33.5 million. Even more significantly, it’s less than the $29.85 million that came off the Phillies payroll when they shed Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura. After signing Turner, the team’s active payroll is still roughly $25 million below both last year’s payroll and this year’s first luxury tax ceiling of $233 million, leaving plenty of room for further free-agent additions, particularly in the starting pitching rotation and the bullpen.
Turner’s on-field fit with the Phillies is so good that it almost speaks for itself. Last year, the speedy Turner slashed .298/.343/.466 with 21 homers, 100 RBI and 27 stolen bases and finished 9th amongst all NL players with a 6.3 WAR. In the past four seasons, he’s hit .298 or better, averaging 26.5 home runs and 35.1 steals per 162. In that time span, he’s also played in 89.6% of all possible games, posted at least a 4.2 WAR in every full season, and ranks 7th in MLB with a 24.9 WAR. He’s also never once posted a 20% strikeout rate in a full MLB season.
In Philadelphia, Turner is not only reunited with former Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long and teammate Bryce Harper, but he enters a situation in which his talents and style of play can be most impactful to a team’s success. While the Phillies rode their formidable offense to the World Series in 2022 – ranking 5th in the NL in OBP, OPS, and Runs, in addition to 4th in home runs and 3rd in slugging – their lineup was unconventional and likely unsustainable. Many of the hitters are power-hitting sluggers, which led to Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins batting leadoff and 2nd, respectively. Although Schwarber had a .323 OBP and led the NL in homers, he also hit just .218 and led MLB in strikeouts with 200. Although Hoskins’ slant towards power isn’t as severe, his weaknesses and strengths (high strikeout rate, lower average, higher power) lend themselves more towards the middle of the lineup, where he could potentially reach the 100 RBI mark for the first time in his career.
In Turner, the team has a true top of the lineup hitter that can set the table with both his high-contact/low-strikeout rates as well as his speed. Although he batted 3rd for much of last year with the Dodgers, he’s primarily hit leadoff (472 starts) and 2nd (236 starts) throughout his career. Turner also possesses the raw power to supplement the lineup and move towards the middle of the order in the wake of Harper’s absence – he’s as versatile an offensive weapon as they come. Most importantly, however, his presence gives breathing room at the top of the lineup, in turn creating a deeper and more well-rounded lineup for years to come.
The Phillies offensive struggles, especially in the World Series, largely came from not being able to produce base runners in addition to failing to drive those runners in when in scoring position. The addition of Turner can relieve that pressure for power hitters like Hoskins and Schwarber to get on base. Now, those two can slide down to more RBI favorable positions like 4th, 5th, or 6th. Nick Castellanos, hoping for a resurgent 2023, doesn’t have to hit in an RBI dependent spot and can slide to 6th or 7th. Depending on matchups, Alec Bohm could either join Turner at the top of the order or slide down to the bottom third, where even less pressure will be put on Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh. J.T. Realmuto could even move to 2nd, where the team would be less reliant on his power and RBI production and make even better use of his speed. Regardless of the particulars, Turner’s presence will make for a more comfortable lineup where his teammates can hit to the strengths – sluggers can swing for the fences and high-average hitters can get on base.
In the field, Turner also provides a veteran presence at shortstop with the versatility to move to second base if need be. Although Turner had 16 errors last season, the most of any shortstops, he’s consistently been an above average defender. In Philadelphia, he has the potential to be an elite defender. Why? His elite athleticism. Despite last season’s errors, Turner still managed to post a dWAR of 1.0 and finish second highest in MLB in range runs: the number of runs above or below a fielder is, determined by how he is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity. In other words, Turner’s athleticism and range has more than made up for any issues with his glovework and throwing in years past. With the Phillies, not only will he benefit from a wide-ranging second baseman in Bryson Stott, but he’ll also give support to Alec Bohm, especially with the new infield shift rules. What gives Turner the potential to be great, however, is the time that he’ll spend with infield coach Bobby Dickerson – the man responsible for turning around Alec Bohm, building up Bryson Stott, and cultivating Manny Machado’s elite defense. For Dickerson, Turner is precious steel and he is the blacksmith. All Dickerson needs to do now is to hammer him into shape.
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