A Sensible Investment with a Ginger Beard
Justin Turner should be a Met. Some outfielders shouldn't. Rob Manfred shouldn't be anywhere close.
Today, we examine the goings-on in baseball. The Mets are interested in Justin Turner but things might come to nothing; the outfield is finally good enough that any old move isn’t an automatic upgrade; and the runner-on-second rule in extra innings continues, even though it’s so obviously cretinous and daft.
According to two reports confusingly released at almost exactly the same time, A) the Mets are interested in Justin Turner, but far from a deal, and B) Turner going to the Mets is “not likely to happen.” Some people have presented these reports as contradicting each other, but they’re not: the likely scenario is that so far, Turner to the Mets is unlikely precisely because the two sides are far apart on what Turner is worth.
For what it’s worth — not to be confused with what Turner is worth, which is apparently still up for debate — Justin Turner should absolutely be a Met. He’s 36, and has had his issues with durability, but he’s also an excellent hitter — he’s put up an OPS of .832 or better every year since 2014, and batted .302/.382/.503 over that span, topping 20 home runs three times. Honestly, I’d forgotten just how good a hitter Turner is. He also has an .899 career OPS in the postseason. He’s also a former Met, which is always a good story, and his face is surrounded by a ridiculous cocoon of ginger hair, which makes for a fun time. Plus there’s the “creampie” Tweet, which — just google it.
On defense, he’s a tad below average; I’d call him serviceable. But with his bat and his veteran presence, that’s more than enough. Some people, I’m sure, will respond that Turner, a 36-year-old third baseman who only averages about 125 games a year and is just okay on defense, isn’t worth an expensive, multi-year deal. But come on. Turner is an excellent hitter and a gritty player in the field. Besides, the Mets just offered Trevor Bauer tens of millions of dollars more than Turner can probably imagine, and Turner is way less annoying and doesn’t use Twitter as much. This is the exceedingly rare case where the Mets can make a move that’s fun and has a narrative arc and a marketing component, but also makes perfect baseball sense. They’d be nuts not to do it.
If this was 2012, and the Mets starting outfield was Jason Bay, Andres Torres, and Lucas Duda, they’d be nuts not to make an improvement. Nick Markakis is available — with a few more good seasons, the guy might get 3,000 hits and become the lowest-key Hall of Famer of all time. Sign him! Shin-soo Choo is a free agent, and he’s an on-base machine — bring him in!
But things are different these days, with Steve Cohen writing the checks and Sandy Alderson’s draft picks finally in their primes. For fans, the Mets outfield is in an unfamiliar position: it’s good enough that any old move isn’t automatically an upgrade.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is probably the Mets’ most-discussed potential outfield target, and he would unquestionably improve the defense. But would his glove be worth putting Dom Smith’s bat on the bench? Some people think so; I tend to think not. Maybe my judgement is colored by the fact that in 2017, I convinced my father to draft Bradley in fantasy baseball, and he’s been complaining to me about it more or less nonstop ever since.
Dom Smith needs to play every day, and now that we know there won’t be a DH in the National League, he needs to play left field. His outfield defense isn’t quite ideal, but Bradley — for whom Fangraphs’ various projection systems all project an OPS below .750 in 2021 — will be worse.
It’s official: in 2021, MLB will continue its automatic-runner-on-second-in-extra-innings experiment. The official line is that it’s all in the name of pandemic safety, but Manfred has been pushing this nonsense since long before COVID. Does anyone believe that, if the virus disappeared tomorrow, he’d suddenly abandon his crusade?
The thing is, even if you fervently believe that baseball needs drastic change, extra innings are exactly the wrong place to implement it. The length of a baseball game functions as a sort of natural weed-out system. Anyone who’s still there after the ninth or tenth is almost certainly already a big baseball fan, likely to enjoy the spectacle of extra innings. If you want to keep more people in the stands, make the game more exciting starting at the beginning, so that everyone can experience the excitement, not just the people who are already big fans and thus don’t need it.
Even if you don’t think baseball is already exciting enough, trying to make it more exciting by changing extra innings is sort of like adding excitement to a chess tournament by adding an express checkmate in the final. The only people who will appreciate it are the ones who can’t wait to get home. And if that’s who MLB is tailoring its product towards, we’re all in for an ordeal.