Washington Nationals: Is Trea Turner a franchise centerpiece?
By Brian Foley
Trea Turner has flashed unlimited potential but has failed to consistently display it. Where does he fit within the Washington Nationals’ future plans?
Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner exists in two worlds. In one, he is arguably the team’s most exciting player and one of the most thrilling young talents in all of baseball.
But in the other world, Turner is nothing more than a complimentary piece, certainly better than most fungible MLBers, but still below the All-Star track that Nats fans were hoping for after his incredible rookie campaign. So which world represents the truth?
Trea Turner: Franchise Centerpiece
It’s obvious what Turner brings to the table. The young shortstop doesn’t turn 25 years old until the end of this month and already has over 270 career games. He’s one of the fastest players in a game that is becoming increasingly athletic and has the stolen base resume to prove it. 102 steals in 120 career attempts is not easy to do.
More from District on Deck
- 3 Free Agents the Nationals Should Gamble On
- A Washington Nationals Christmas Wishlist
- Washington Nationals: Is Seth Lugo Still an Option?
- Robots in Baseball? The Possibility of an Automated Ball/Strike System in the MLB
- Washington Nationals Re-Sign RHP Erasmo Ramirez
Defensively, he has taken the next step in at shortstop and is tied for sixth among all players in defensive runs saved (10).
And at the plate, Turner has certainly proven himself capable. When he burst onto the scene in 2016, he posted a 142 OPS+ with surprising power and elite speed.
And while he hasn’t been the same offensive player over the past two years (102 OPS+ in 174 total games since the start of 2017), this could very well be the floor of who he is as a hitter.
Turner has also supplemented his offensive repertoire with improved plate discipline this year; his 10.5 percent walk rate is second amongst all qualified shortstops.
Add it all up and the Nats have a 25-year-old speedster who holds down the toughest defensive position on the diamond with a bat that is at-worst league average but has the legitimate boom potential.
Trea Turner: Complimentary Option
On the flip-side, Turner’s outstanding 2016 campaign moves further and further away in the rearview mirror. And it’s fair to wonder whether this is the new norm.
He was a productive hitter in the minor leagues, but not dominant. So it was always unrealistic to expect him to consistently hit as well as he did in 2016 when his power surged and he posted a .388 BABIP. Now Turner appears to have settled into his likely career trajectory as a decent all-around hitter.
Among his peers, Turner might not even rank within the top seven or eight shortstops in baseball.
He certainly sits behind Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Manny Machado, Andrelton Simmons, and Jean Segura. Depending on preference, Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Crawford could also rank above him on the hierarchy.
If Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy leave in free agency this offseason, next year’s offensive core could very well be Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton, and Turner. They are three legitimately talented players, but they have a combined zero All-Star appearances.
All-Star nods are certainly not what they used to be. However, over a substantial period of time, they are indicative of premier talent.
Turner, Rendon, and Eaton may be three of the best players in the game to never reach the midsummer classic, but the point stands nonetheless. And building a lineup around three borderline All-Stars – especially ones with extensive injury histories – is not a recipe for a productive offense.
In the postseason, opponents have also feasted on Turner’s holes. He is just 10-42 in 10 career playoff games with 18 strikeouts, 3 walks, and just 1 extra-base hit.
Looking down the road, three of the Nationals top-seven prospects are shortstops. Turner is certainly not a trade candidate today, but if Mike Rizzo wants to shake things up over the next two seasons, he has options available to make Turner expendable.
As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. Turner will never be the best player on a championship contender. Despite the prolific start to his career, he simply is not that type of hitter.
But with his improving glove and blazing speed, his bat is already good enough to rely on for the next four years. And should his offensive production tick slightly upwards towards a 115 OPS+, then the Nationals can really look at Turner as a potential long-term piece.
Next: Mike Rizzo should target these catchers
His contract runs through 2022, but there is a fine line between a young player with time to grow and a decent player no longer viewed as a premier asset. Trea Turner still has plenty of time to become a consistent star, but it may not be as much time as you think.