The Baltimore Orioles are committed to adding more major league talent to the lineup this offseason, but could top free agent Trea Turner potentially be in the mix?
Trea Turner enters the offseason as one of the best free agents, and perhaps the best of the top-4 free agent shortstops (Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson). Entering his age-30 season, he’s in line for a lengthy contract between 8-9 years. Jim Bowden of The Athletic predicts an 8-year, $264MM contract for Turner.
The team’s current shortstop is Jorge Mateo. It’s hard to say that Mateo blocks the team from signing a big name shortstop, but if the Orioles choose to spend big money elsewhere, shortstop is not one of their positions of weakness.
With all signs pointing to the Baltimore Orioles increasing payroll this offseason, could Trea Turner be a fit for the club?
Trea Turner Has Become an Elite Shortstop
After helping lead the Nationals to the 2019 World Series, Turner broke out in the shortened 2020 season by slashing .335/.394/.588 and finishing 7th in NL MVP voting. He followed that up by winning the batting title in 2021 while slashing .328/.375/.536, leading the league with 32 stolen bases, and hitting a career-high 28 home runs. He finished 5th in NL MVP voting that season.
Turner is now coming off of a relative down year, but to be fair, so are most hitters. He slashed .298/.343/.466 with a 121 OPS+, 21 HR, 39 2B, and 27 SB. He also led the league in plate appearances and at bats while playing in 160 games. If this is what a bad Trea Turner year looks like, he’s still a well above-average hitter at a premium position.
Defensively, Turner took a step back in 2022. He peaked way back in 2018 with 8 DRS and 13 OAA, and he’s taken a big step backwards ever since. He had 0 OAA at SS this year, which at least means he’s not a bad defender. It’s worth noting that he had 3 DRS and 2 OAA at second base in 2021, and while he may look to sign as a shortstop, if the Orioles could convince Turner to move to 2B and keep Mateo at SS, they could build an elite defensive infield. Turner has a small sample size at second, but he’s shown a good glove at the position.
Perhaps Turner’s biggest strength is his speed. He’s in the 99th percentile of sprint speed in 2022, and since finishing 2nd in NL ROTY voting in 2016, he’s led the league with 228 steals (the next highest – Starling Marte, with 201). He’s also 2nd in BsR, an all-encompassing base-running metric, with 42.2, behind just Billy Hamilton. When Turner’s on the bases, he’s going to be a threat, and with the MLB expanding the size of bases in 2023, you have to wonder if he’ll become even more dangerous.
Getting on the bases typically isn’t a problem for Turner, but he did post his worst OBP since 2017 this year. With a 6.4 BB%, Turner pretty much has to get on through hits, but thankfully, he’s one of the best contact hitters in the game. A high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is typically a measurement of luck, but a consistently high BABIP (say, .310 or higher) is also a sign of an elite contact hitter. Turner has a career average BABIP of .344, so if he makes contact, that ball is more likely to be a hit than it would be for most hitters. Watch for him to threaten the league for another batting title in 2023.
How Does Trea Turner Fit with the Baltimore Orioles?
I’ve previously discussed the Jorge Mateo predicament, but truthfully, Mateo should not block the Orioles if they see the chance to improve their team. Either of Turner or Mateo could move to 2B, and while it would hurt Mateo’s defense somewhat, he could still be a great defender if he moves.
If upcoming prospects worry you, they shouldn’t. Sure, don’t sign someone who would block Gunnar Henderson, but Henderson is already up and ready to be a full-time starter. Should the Orioles avoid adding a middle infielder because of Jordan Westburg? Definitely not. As good as Westburg could be, it’s just that, potential. Since he hasn’t played a game in the MLB, it’s hard to factor him into 2023, and adding another middle infielder could make Westburg a trade candidate to add another pitcher. What about Jackson Holliday? Holliday is still pretty raw, but the Orioles have been splitting his time between 2B and SS. He could end up as either in the MLB depending on how he develops, so whichever spot Turner takes, Holliday could take the other. Holliday isn’t being blocked, but he may be forced to another position.
In the lineup, Turner is the prototypical leadoff hitter. The ability to hit a single and immediately steal second, or to immediately put yourself on second with a double, are both present in Turner. He doesn’t have much home run power, something that is becoming increasingly more common in leadoff hitters.
Should the Baltimore Orioles Sign Trea Turner?
The case for Turner is that he’s one of the most complete free agents. His glove is better than Xander Bogaerts’, he hits better than Dansby Swanson, and he’s faster than Carlos Correa. Though not excelling in defense or power, he’s shown flashes in the past, and at his best, Turner could put up MVP numbers.
The biggest case against signing Turner is the cost. An 8yr/$264MM as the first big contract back from the rebuild is a pretty steep price to pay. The Baltimore Orioles could be willing to spend big in free agency, but as the above article from MLB.com states, the Orioles are looking for a top-3 starter in their rotation and one or two bats. You also have to wonder if they’ll be looking to add to the back of their bullpen, and even whether they’d begin extension talks with Adley Rutschman, as extending young stars before arbitration is becoming common for many teams. Most of this is speculation at this point, but the Orioles have more than one hole left to fill in, and the price of just Trea Turner could be too much.
Another issue the Orioles need to consider is the aging curve for Trea Turner. With his defense now being average, and with his lack of home run power, Turner’s primary appeal is his speed, something that tends to deteriorate as a player ages. He’s showing no signs of slowing down, and he’s still an excellent contact hitter, but when he loses his best tool, what will Turner be?
For the above reasons, I think it’s unlikely the Baltimore Orioles will sign Trea Turner. I won’t argue with the contract that he deserves, and he could be as good as a top-15 player in the game, but at this point in the rebuild, it could make sense to spread money around for a corner outfielder and a star pitcher rather than for Trea Turner.