ARLINGTON, Texas — Will the Steve Cohen Mets not let Justin Turner get away like the Wilpon Mets did?
Maybe not. After all, Sandy Alderson, the Mets general manager who non-tendered Turner on Dec. 2, 2013, is coming back to serve as team president.
Yet as Turner helped power the Dodgers to a 6-2 victory over the Rays on Friday night in World Series Game 3, putting L.A.’s finest ballclub ahead by a 2-1 margin, the Fall Classic favorites offered additional bread crumbs for Cohen, the man who once tried to buy them and — assuming the other major-league owners and Bill de Blasio green-light him — instead will attempt to overtake them for National League superiority:
You can’t bat 1.000 on player evaluations. But the best teams of this era excel buying low on a guy and seeing him soar, and that is a skill at which the Mets have rarely if ever stood out. More often the soaring occurs from a former Met going elsewhere, like Turner.
A Met from 2010 through 2013, Turner crushed a Charlie Morton fastball for a first-inning solo homer, putting the Dodgers on the board first and tying Turner, a seventh-year Dodger, with Duke Snider for the all-time franchise lead with 11 postseason homers. Yes, yes — Duke hit all of his October dingers in the World Series, the only playoff round in his day. Still, though, that’s pretty amazing for a guy the Dodgers picked up long ago on a minor-league contract.
“It means I’ve had the opportunity to play on a lot of really good baseball teams, deep into October, and got a lot of at-bats,” the modest Turner said. “Obviously, it’s something that I don’t think I ever thought about or has crossed my mind. It’s a pretty cool thing that I can talk about when I’m done playing.”
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said of Turner. “J.T. is a big player for us, a great guy in the clubhouse. We rely on him all the time.”
Turner added a third-inning, two-out double and scored a run, and in the bottom of the third, he turned a nice scoop on Mike Zunino’s short-hopper into an inning-ending double play, aiding pitcher Walker Buehler in a dominant performance. Max Muncy, like Turner a low-profile pickup for the Dodgers, drove home Turner and Corey Seager in the third with a timely single.
A minor uproar at most emerged when the Mets liberated Turner, a high-energy guy who had tallied a 95 OPS+ (five percent below league average) in 895 big-league plate appearances and, entering his age-29 season, hardly appeared to be a star in the making. All the credit in the world goes to Turner, who overhauled his swing and rode the launch-angle revolution to one hell of a career. He owns a 139 OPS+ in seven regular seasons as a Dodger, the last four of which he played at market value; the Dodgers rolled the dice on him with a four-year, $64-million extension as he entered his age-32 campaign in 2017 — precisely the sort of risk a big-market team should take if it believes in the player — and Turner, who turns 36 next month, rewarded them.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Turner said of his ongoing success. “Preparation, repetition. Not afraid to make adjustments from pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat.”
Maybe the 2021 Mets, armed with superior brainpower and technology and freed from the Wilpons’ unhelpful supervision, will see the next Turner in their midst and not give up on him so easily. Definitely, however, they must find hidden treasures elsewhere.
Alderson did much right while running the Mets, especially his drafts and high-profile trades. As the big boss this turn, more likely than not to overhaul the current front office, he must aspire to be even better. To supplement big buys with small jewels. To have other teams wondering what they missed on a future Justin Turner who is making history with the Mets.
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