Since 2014, Justin Turner’s provided the Dodgers lineup with an elite bat and sound defense at the hot corner. Yet after a season that saw his output decline the veteran’s future in LA is up in the air. The Dodgers hold a $16MM team option for 2023 with a $2MM buyout, and according to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, haven’t informed the 2022 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award of their decision yet.
It was a tale of two halves in 2022 for Turner. The buyout looked to be the heavy favorite at the All-Star break, as the 37-year-old posted just a .256/.331/.403 line with five home runs. It was vintage Turner after the break though, as he hit .319/.386/.503 with eight home runs to finish the season with 13 home runs and a .278/.350/.438 line. That still amounted to Turner’s worst offensive production since joining the Dodgers, but the strength of his second half has made the decision a tough one for the Dodgers’ front office. On the other side of the ball, Turner saw his defensive numbers decline, as he posted -2 Outs Above Average and -2.1 UZR. As a result, around half his appearances this season were at DH.
Turner’s option decision is, in fact, just one element of a complicated off-season for the left side of the Dodgers infield. The team will lose shortstop Trea Turner to free agency, while Max Muncy, who made 84 appearances at the hot corner, is under contract at $13.5MM. Muncy also scuffled at the plate in 2022, hitting .196/.329/.384 with 21 home runs but graded out better defensively with seven Defensive Runs Saved in 84 games at third base, and is also capable of manning second base.
The Dodgers may be hesitant commit $29MM to two players coming off of down years, particularly if they’re looking to make a serious bid to either re-sign their star shortstop or go after someone like Carlos Correa. Per RosterResource, the Dodgers’ luxury tax payroll projects at around $176MM in 2023, though that’s before factoring in arbitration-eligible players. That leaves them with a fair bit of space to maneuver in before reaching this year’s mark, but the Dodgers do need to spend at the aforementioned shortstop position, solidify their rotation and they’ve been rumored to be in the market for Aaron Judge.
With that being said, it’s hard to imagine Turner in a different team’s uniform, and the Dodgers may well value his leadership and veteran presence enough that they bring him back, either via the team option or on a new, restructured contract. Plus, while Turner may be starting to decline, he’s still a productive player that was worth 2.4 fWAR in 2022. The Dodgers have until five days after the World Series to decide on Turner’s option, and while there’s a solid argument to be made either way, it still seems a good chance he’s back in Dodger blue in 2023.
Editor’s note: This post originally indicated Muncy’s option had yet to be exercised. The team preemptively exercised it in August when signing Muncy for an additional year.