Mazz: Justin Turner was good, but the Red Sox can do better
For lots of reasons, Justin Turner returning to the Red Sox would hardly be a bad thing. He was one of the team’s better performers in 2023 and was invaluable to Red Sox manager Alex Cora in the Boston clubhouse.
But truth be told, the Red Sox should hope to do better.
That said, it may not be their choice.
As things stand, Turner has a $13.4 million player option to return in 2024, which feels like a reasonable number for someone who batted .276 with 23 home runs, 96 RBI and an even .800 OPS for the season. (He also batted a whopping .338 with runners in scoring position.) At the same time, the Red Sox ranked only slightly better than average (10th in OPS and 13th in WAR) at the position, though even that would be tolerable were it not for a simpler, more concerning truth.
By committing Just Turner to designated hitter, the Sox would lose flexibility in their defensive alignment and be limited with ways to improve their fielding.
In the offseason, after all, everything is linked. If Turner stays, Masataka Yoshida is likely committed to left field. Ditto for Jarren Duran. But if the Sox can replace Turner with a plus defender who can provide the same kind of offense (or better), well, things change considerably. The Sox could employ Yoshida or Duran as a designated hitter – at least for part of the time, if not more – and give Cora the flexibility of mixing and matching as he sees fit.
This year, when used in the field, Turner was a minus defender at third base, second base and first base, though the last two are positions where has limited experience. Regardless, the only real reason to replace Turner is if the Sox can find a better all-around player who bats right-handed and fills an obvious positional need like center field. (Hence the pining for Luis Robert.)
But again, for now at least, this Turner’s choice. Still, given the manner in which Cora orchestrated Turner’s departure from the field in the Red Sox’ final home game of the season, one can’t help but wonder if the manager was privy to information that Turner intends to go to market. And let’s not forget that the Red Sox were toying with the idea of dealing Turner at the trading deadline, which certainly suggests there was communication between the player and team about the timeline beyond 2023.