Time for Turner to get his due (and his dollars)

Francisco Lindor is a superstar, perhaps the best shortstop in baseball, and that’s why folks in New York were so ecstatic Thursday when they learned the Mets had just acquired the 27-year-old (plus right-hander Carlos Carrasco) from Cleveland in a blockbuster trade.

Now for something that might surprise you: Lindor and Trea Turner have the exact same career OPS of .833.

Yep, the rightly regarded superstar shortstop’s career offensive output has been matched by the Nationals’ current shortstop.

Before we proceed too far here, let’s acknowledge for the record that Lindor is clearly the better all-around player. He’s an elite defender, owner of two Gold Glove Awards. Turner is a decent fielder, but not in that category. That’s why Lindor has averaged 4.8 WAR per season while Turner has averaged 3.3.

But the point here isn’t to denigrate Lindor. He’s the real deal, always has been. The point is to state that Turner undoubtedly deserves to be touted in the same class as his fellow 27-year-old. And as any other shortstop in baseball.

Since 2015 (when both guys debuted in the big leagues), only Trevor Story (.877) and Corey Seager (.863) have produced a higher OPS. Turner, Lindor and Carlos Correa are all tied for third at .833.

Only Xander Bogaerts (.298) has a higher batting average than Turner (.296). Only Seager (.362) and Bogaerts (.360) have a higher on-base percentage than Turner (.353).

Thumbnail image for Trea-Turner-swing-blue-sidebar.jpgSo why isn’t Turner recognized more around the league than his counterparts?

Maybe it’s because, for the most part since he arrived in D.C., he’s been overshadowed by multiple teammates who have performed better and drawn more attention. Turner was at most the fifth-best player on the 2019 World Series champions roster, behind Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. He might’ve even ranked sixth behind Howie Kendrick.

It’s hard to draw attention when you’re surrounded by star power like that.

But this past season we began to see the spotlight turn more toward Turner. With Rendon gone, Strasburg injured and Scherzer inconsistent, the 2020 Nationals were all about the Turner-Soto combo. And as such, the shortstop finished seventh in National League MVP voting, the first time he had received any votes at all.

Even then, though, it felt like Turner was underappreciated. He lost the Silver Slugger Award to Fernando Tatis Jr. - despite outslugging him!

Folks here in Washington, of course, fully appreciate Turner. They’ve seen for five years now what a difference he makes, not merely as a top-of-the-order table-setter, but as a complete offensive player who can beat you with power, speed and the ability to get on base.

It’s no coincidence at all that the Nationals’ historic turnaround in 2019 coincided almost precisely with Turner’s return from a broken index finger. When Turner was in the lineup that season, the Nats went 75-37. When he didn’t play, they were 22-32.

Turner isn’t going to remain a secret to the rest of the world much longer, though, because he’s now only two years away from reaching free agency. Like Rendon before him, the baseball industry is going to start appreciating this guy very soon and ensure he’s paid accordingly.

How much might Turner fetch on the open market? Well, we’ve pointed out how comparable he has been to date to Lindor, who is eligible to become a free agent next winter. Cleveland reportedly offered him a contract extension last spring worth more than $200 million. He turned it down. Now the Mets, who surely didn’t make this trade to hold his rights for only one year, are going to have to pony up whatever it costs to keep him in Flushing long-term.

This isn’t to suggest Turner is guaranteed to fetch $200 million or more himself when the time comes. But he might not come much cheaper than that, and he very well may get more than it.

The good news for the Nationals: Turner is represented by CAA, the agency that also reps Ryan Zimmerman and countless others and historically has shown more willingness to sign extensions before reaching free agency.

But if it’s going to happen, it probably needs to happen in the next 12 to 14 months.

If and when it does, perhaps then will Turner fully be recognized as the elite player he’s been for some time now.

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