Justin Turner is one of the more expensive free agents that has been mentioned in the same sentence as the Yankees, after another solid season that ended in a NLCS loss to the world champion Chicago Cubs. Turner batted just .200 in that season-ending series, but hit .400 in the NLDS, and is a career .357 hitter in the postseason. A proven postseason performer who has seen his offensive numbers improve steadily over the past three seasons, Turner has the markings of the type of player the Yankees could use at the hot corner.
2016 statistics: .275/.339/.493, 27 HR, 90 RBI, 92 RC, 124 OPS+
Age on Opening Day 2017: 32
Primary Position: 3B
A major road block between the Yanks and Turner is the man currently occupying third base in Chase Headley. Still with two years and $26 million left on his four-year deal, Headley would be a difficult piece for the Yankees to trade away, unless they were willing to eat a fair amount of his salary, which sounds like a move that would be counterproductive to the Yankees’ plans of dipping beneath the luxury tax.
Still, Turner is an intriguing piece for the Yankees to consider, given the offensive outlook of the 2017 season. The Yankees need a bat with pop, and 27 home runs is quite the upgrade from the Headley’s painfully average bat, despite being a solid defender. After a terrible April, Headley rebounded to salvage an offensively mediocre season, while Turner finished in the top ten of the MVP voting.
Despite being over 30, Turner’s power numbers increased dramatically in 2016. He slugged 11 more home runs than his 2015 campaign, while improving his total bases from 189 to 274. What makes his offensive numbers even more impressive is the fact that he has excelled in a pitcher friendly park in Dodger Stadium, in an NL West division with rival pitchers like Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.
We mentioned Turner’s postseason success, but he also excels in high pressure situations overall. Turner batted .340 in high leverage situations in 2016, and his career average in such situations is a respectable .316, while also driving in 133 runs over 437 plate appearances. Furthermore, his .345 average with runners in scoring position over the past three seasons is the second best in the major leagues.
Turner played a number of infield positions before settling in as the Dodgers’ every day third baseman, and has since developed a solid glove with great range. Turner ranked third in the league last season in defensive runs save and defensive WAR, and his overall defensive numbers have improved over the last few years. Turner was also a Gold Glove finalist this season.
Recent rumors on Turner have linked him with the Cardinals, who have expressed interest in signing him despite not having a clear cut need in the infield. Could the Yankees take a similar route? It would be tough with Headley still on the roster, but maybe if they find a landing spot for him, they can swoop in on Turner and give themselves a significant upgrade.
An argument can be made that Turner is already over 30 and will likely be seeking a deal that will take him into his mid thirties, where a decline in performance is a concern. The Yanks have had bad outcomes when signing players in the middle of their careers to extended deals, so it is very possible that they stay put and go with Headley at third until his contract is up, or an infield prospect proves to be major league ready. Nonetheless, a steady improving player like Turner is an intriguing idea.