Trea Turner would bring speed and solid contact to a power-packed offense
The first of a four-part series on the star free agent shortstops who are expected to draw interest from numerous teams, including the Phillies.
Three weeks before returning to the lineup, as his broken left thumb continued to heal, Bryce Harper joined NBC Sports Philadelphia’s broadcast of an Aug. 4 game at Citizens Bank Park. At one point, John Kruk mentioned All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.
“He’s my favorite player in the league,” Harper said. “It’s not even close.”
Stop the press, er, internet.
The clip went viral, as these things do. Turner’s wife, Kristen, posted it on Instagram, tagged Harper’s wife, Kayla, and said she misses her. Astute observers noted that Turner and Harper were teammates in Washington, and Phillies owner John Middleton admits he has “open conversations” with Harper about potential free-agent signings and other personnel moves.
Connect a few dots, including Turner’s admiration recorded by Harperwell, fast forward to opening day and cue Dan Baker: Now batting for the Phillies, shortstop, number seven, Treaaaaaa TURRRRR-ner!
OK, quick reality check: While Harper’s opinions influence the organization and the $330 million star “makes her opinions known,” according to Middleton, Turner is no longer 10 . It’s unlikely, then, that he’s basing a multi-hundred-million-dollar decision on being able to play with his friends.
If the Phillies land Turner, it will be because they made him the best offer. Given their recent history of spending big on free agents they wanted: Harper ($330 million), Zack Wheeler ($118 million), JT Realmuto ($115.5 million), Nick Castellanos ($100 million dollars) and Kyle Schwarber ($79 million) and His need for a shortstop after coming within two wins of winning the World Series should be considered among the favorites in the Turner Derby.
The market includes three other stellar locations. Carlos Correa is the youngest (28) and, unlike the others, is not tied to draft-pick compensation; Xander Bogaerts is a two-time World Series champion and played for President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski in Boston; Dansby Swanson has a Gold Glove and exemplary leadership qualities.
But Turner, 29, is the most dynamic of the bunch. Since 2018, he leads the majors in stolen bases (149) and ranks second in hits (802) and seventh in Fangraphs wins above replacement (24.9). He graded out as an average shortstop over the last two seasons, but has saved nine more runs than average over his career.
And have you seen those buttery smooth slides?
The Phillies’ offense relies on slugging, with Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Castellanos, Realmuto, Harper and Brandon Marsh all hitting at least 20% of the time this season. Turner has a career save percentage of 18. And with the upcoming rule changes, particularly the ban on the changeup and bigger bases, hitters who put the ball in play and use their speed will be more valuable.
In September, he wondered if anyone controls the run game on both sides of the ball better than RealmutoHarper quoted Turner.
“I mean, Trea is amazing,” Harper said. “He’s amazing. Just the way he plays, the way he runs, he does a really good job on the bases.”
Turner would fit well at the top of the Phillies’ order or at second, a .300 hitter from the right side between Schwarber and Harper, a lefty.
But how high will the price go?
Corey Seager set the free agent record for total value last year with a 10-year, $325 million contract from Texas. Correa set the annual salary benchmark for shortstops at $35.1 million before opting out after the first year of a three-year deal with Minnesota.
Turner will likely target both brands. He’s 10 months older than Seager and unlikely to get as many years and dollars overall. But if he doesn’t reach $300 million, he can still exceed Seager’s annual salary and approach Correa’s 2022 payment for seven or eight seasons.
There are other considerations. Turner grew up in Florida and went to college at North Carolina State. His wife is from New Jersey. He spent 6 1/2 seasons in Washington and is believed to prefer to return to the East Coast after a year and a half with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Dombrowski said last week that the Phillies do “some flexibility” to add another high priced free agent. Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius combined to earn $28 million this year, according to calculations for luxury tax purposes. The Phillies could put that money toward a shortstop and still address other needs, primarily a mid-rotation starter and a couple of levers.
“We’re going to push the needle and try to win,” Dombrowski said last week. “I mean, we’re close, right? We’re going to do everything we can to make our club a championship-caliber club.”
It might just be the Phillies’ most effective recruiting pitch. Not only would Turner get a chance to play with Harper again, but he would join his friend on a roster that looks set to contend for another pennant. At the All-Star Game, Turner said he thought Harper was “a leader [the Phillies] in the right direction.”
And that was before his unexpected World Series run.
“When I was a free agent, I would look at other teams and say, ‘These guys play well together, they’ve had success.’ This would be a good place to go,’” Realmuto said. “I think with this run that we went on, we put ourselves on the map for that conversation.”
Wanna bet Turner and Harper have already talked about it?
Now, about the money.
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