Justin Turner: ‘A lot of talent’ in Jays lineup

TORONTO – Justin Turner is ready to be whichever version of himself the Toronto Blue Jays desire.

“My job is to be available for (manager John) Schneider in any way he needs me, and for as many games as I possibly can,” Turner said on a video conference Friday, speaking to reporters for the first time since signing a one-year contract with the Blue Jays worth US$13 million plus incentives on Jan. 30.

“I want to be healthy for 162 (games) and I want Schneids to be able to plug me in wherever he needs me to play.

“Whether that’s playing a lot of third base, I’ll be ready to play third base. If it’s spelling Vlad at first, I’ll be ready for that. And, if it’s mainly a DH role, that’s great, too.”

Versatility and unselfishness have been Turner’s calling cards throughout his successful 15-year MLB career, which he spent primarily with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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But while Turner possesses a utilityman resume to make his manager’s wish come true, age has limited his field work to spot duty in recent years.

The 39-year-old made just seven starts at third base for the Boston Red Sox in 2023, mixing in 10 starts at second and 41 at first while primarily serving as designated hitter.

The Blue Jays, however, were in need of a veteran clean-up slugger after Brandon Belt departed in free agency.

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Offensively, Turner showed last season he still has a lot to give. He was a rare bright spot on a moribund Red Sox club in 2023, performing admirably with a .800 OPS, .276 batting average, and .455 slugging percentage in 626 plate appearances across 146 games while playing through an ankle injury for most of the schedule’s second half.

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Turner’s 23 home runs where third on the team, while his 96 RBIs were second behind only star third baseman Rafael Devers.

Those numbers would have been enough to make Turner one of the Blue Jays’ top hitters last season, a fact that helped make Toronto an attractive destination once a reunion with the Red Sox was no longer a possibility.

“I like to put together a list of destinations that I would hope to land at, and Toronto was one of the teams at the top of that list,” Turner said of his free agency decision.

Turner said he had a “front-row view” of the division-rival Blue Jays while playing in Boston, and saw there was a lot to like in Toronto.

“Their starting pitching, their bullpen, which is fantastic,” Turner said. “(And) there’s certainly a lot of talent in that lineup who, some might say, might have had a down year offensively, some of those guys, and still managed to be a playoff team.”

The Blue Jays are keen to forget their recent post-season showings after losing all three wild-card series they’ve qualified for since 2020. Turner hopes to remedy that, and his .276 career post-season average, 2017 NLCS MVP award, and 2020 World Series ring with the Dodgers suggests that he can.

Turner knows what it takes to win, and he made it clear on Friday that he’s ready to help push the young and talented Blue Jays over the hump.

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“If you want to win a World Series, we’re going to have to swallow some pride and just do what it takes,” Turner said of what propelled those Dodgers to a title three seasons ago.

“Whether that’s the sexy role or not, I promise you, you won’t care about it when you’re holding that trophy at the end of the day.”

As a veteran, Turner is aware of his need to both earn the respect of the locker room and help lead it by example. Sacrifice will be crucial in the Blue Jays’ pursuit of a World Series in an increasingly crowded AL East, and Turner said he is more than ready to do so.

“I get asked all the time ‘What’s my favourite position?’,” Turner said, “and it’s literally just being in the lineup.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2024.


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