Finding a player like Justin Turner simply isn't easy


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Justin Turner represented what a great offseason acquisition should look like.

Team identifies player. Team understands not only ability of player, but how his presence will fit into the clubhouse. Team signs player to contract that will allow for other significant moves.

For the all the criticism Chaim Bloom has endured, he nailed this one. It's the same reason Marlins' GM Kim Ng (and a few other decision-makers) put Turner in Miami's crosshairs at the Trade Deadline. While you do need to find the superstars in building a contender, you also need players like Turner.

And, boy, did the Red Sox need Turner.

The gesture by manager Alex Cora in Wednesday night's Fenway Park 2023 finale - allowing Turner to leave to a mid-game standing ovation - defined what Turner represented. He was the glue. Heck, a case could be made he was the MVP.

Typically, a player lands with the very good but not great numbers (.274 batting average, .799 OPS, 23 homers and 96 RBIs) isn't put at the top of the most-important-player power rankings. But Turner was an outlier, on and off the field.

“We don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like this guy throughout the season, he was the leader not only on the field, but off the field, what he did in the community,” Cora said. “[Turner] and his wife Kourtney, from day one, they embraced this town. For him to get an ovation from the people here, from my end, I thought it was something cool for him, and let’s see what the future holds. I’m not saying he won’t be back, but it felt right.”

Justin Turner offers insight making it through a season

To find the undisputed leader of a team, having dropped him into a clubhouse for potentially one year (Turner can opt-out of his contract), and get that player to present the kind of middle-of-the-order offensive support that stretches far beyond his paycheck, is a rarity. That was this player.

So, now what?

After making $8.3 million this season, Turner can opt-in and secure a $13.4 million deal for 2024. But he can also choose free agency, which will net him a $6.7 million buyout. In other words, it certainly seems likely he will be heading to the open market once again.

Should the Red Sox try to catch lightning in the bottle for a second straight season, one which seems vital of making all the right moves in order not to fall into the pit of apathy? It's not an easy answer, which is more a testament to the Sox' failings than anything regarding Turner.

The Red Sox need to get better defensively, but only have a few positions that likely offer that opportunity. One of those is the designated hitter spot, where the likes of Masa Yoshida, Triston Casas or even Rafael Devers might land more than this time around. And, sure, Turner can play passable defense at both first and third base, but the idea would be to find better than passable.

If it wasn't for that conundrum, this would be a no-brainer. Turner can clearly produce at a level needed for the DH spot, while providing the kind of leadership and presence the Red Sox frankly don't have an easy answer for if Turner departs.

The definitive thing we do know in the Turner situation is this: He represented the kind of player and presence every team should be looking for. And in the world of analtyic-driven hit-and-miss analysis, that's a rarity.

“Yeah, I mean, I've enjoyed every minute of it,” Turner said. “Since day one, it's been first class from all the way from the top, all the way down, and I’ve enjoyed the guys in this room, and there's a lot of really good baseball players in this room. And so I would definitely be happy if I was back here again.”

David Ortiz sings the praises of Justin Turner

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