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How much would Justin Turner signing boost Marlins’ offense?

Turner has had a terrific MLB career, but he’s now among the oldest hitters in the game.

Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at bat against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on July 05, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Marlins were never going to spend what it required to get Justin Verlander or Trea Turner, both of whom just signed with their NL East rivals in New York and Philadelphia, respectively. Per Craig Mish of SportsGrid, their focus is on a lesser brand of player available on the MLB free agent market: Justin Verlander or Trea Turner.

In all seriousness, the club’s interest is understandable. JT is coming off a “bad year” by his standards. His 123 weighted runs created plus was tied for the lowest single-season mark of his Dodgers tenure, which began in 2014. However, 23% better than league average is nothing to sneeze at from the Marlins’ perspective—the last Miami player to exceed a 123 wRC+ during a qualified season was J.T. Realmuto in 2018 (127 wRC+).

Turner’s 2022 campaign was a tale of two halves. He spent much of April-June hovering around the Mendoza Line. Then on June 30, he carried L.A. to victory with his first and only multi-home run game of the season. From July onward, he slashed .340/.412/.514. Turner capped it off by winning the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, presented annually to the MLB player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”

Roberto Clemente Award winner Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is presented with his award by Luis Clemente & Roberto Clemente Jr. prior to Game 3 of the 2022 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Despite the momentum that Turner carried into the postseason, he was ineffectiveness in the Dodgers’ NLDS loss to the Padres (.154/.313/.154 in 16 PA). His longtime employer declined his $16 million club option for 2023, sending him a $2 million buyout instead.

Even when he slumps, Turner is exceptionally consistent about making contact and elevating the ball. That produces a sexy combination of extra-base hits and limited strikeouts. The only active major leaguers with at least 2,000 career total bases and less than 800 K’s are Turner, Mookie Betts, Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor, José Ramírez and Jean Segura, according to Stathead. More Stathead fun: Turner is LoanDepot Park’s all-time leader in OPS (min. 100 PA).

But it’s about time that I acknowledge the age factor. A reliably above-average MLB regular with a positive clubhouse presence, Turner would have cost the big-market Dodgers a net price of only $14 million for next season. Their decision to decline his option strongly suggests that they don’t believe he can be relied upon the same way moving forward (though the Dodgers still like him if the price is right, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman).

In 2022, Turner was the third-oldest qualified hitter in the majors behind only Nelson Cruz and Yuli Gurriel, and in order to meet the “qualified” threshold, he needed to make about half of his appearances at DH. He posted minus-2 outs above average at third base, his lowest single-season rating since Statcast began publishing defensive stats.

There are hardly any recent MLB examples of players continuing to be very good hitters at age 38 or older without being completely limited to DH duties. The most optimistic projection for Turner would be something like Carlos Beltrán, who posted a 107 wRC+ from ages 38-40 and averaged 138 games per season while contributing in the outfield corners. The defensive component matters because Jorge Soler is expected to clog the Marlins’ DH spot in 2023 and he’s under contract for 2024 as well.

Credit to Jonathan Andersen of Five Reasons Sports for pointing out that Turner filled in occasionally at first base from 2012-2016 (total of 238 13 defensive innings). His fit with the Fish would be easier to understand if they intended to use there in certain situations. Miami’s previous pursuit of free agent José Abreu shows that the club isn’t fully satisfied with their current first base arrangement (relying heavily on Garrett Cooper).

Turner would be a short-term, incremental upgrade for the Marlins, relegating one of Jordan Groshans or Charles Leblanc to opening the year as Triple-A depth. New Marlins hitting coach Brant Brown is presumably part of the recruiting pitch—they were together in L.A. the previous five seasons. I predict Turner will ultimately land a deal in the two-year, $25 million range from whoever his top suitor proves to be.