Detroit Tigers trade target: Shortstop Trea Turner

WASHINGTON, DC - Trea Turner bats against the Philadelphia Phillies. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - Trea Turner bats against the Philadelphia Phillies. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

Trea Turner has never been an All-Star. His name is rarely invoked during discussions of the game’s elite. But make no mistake, he is one of the best players in baseball.

The Detroit Tigers are desperate for a shortstop. Fans hope they can jump into the fray this off-season and come out with one of the game’s top shortstops, but the competition will be stiff. And the club seems to have given up hope Willi Castro can do the job.

Could the Detroit Tigers avoid the competition for free agents and finally land their shortstop of the future in Trea Turner? Let’s see if we can make a deal.

Who is Trea Turner?

Trea Turner wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, but he exploded onto the college baseball scene as a freshman, batting .336 and stealing 57 bases in 61 tries for N.C. State in 2012. He remained a productive hitter throughout college, but his speed numbers slipped, and questions about his true hitting talent and ability to stick at shortstop led him to fall slightly in the draft.

The San Diego Padres took Turner 13th overall in the 2014 draft, and he performed well in his first taste of pro ball, batting .323 with 23 extra-base hits and 23 steals in 69 games in the low minors. But then in December the Padres traded Turner to Washington in a three-deal deal that also saw Wil Myers head to San Diego and Steven Souza Jr. move to Tampa.

Except Turner wasn’t eligible to be traded until June of 2015. He instead remained the “player to be named later,” which resulted in a bizarre scenario where he spent 58 games playing for a franchise that had already traded him. Major League Baseball then amended their policy (often called the “Trea Turner Rule”) to prevent these sorts of shenanigans from happening again.

In any event, Turned continued to perform, and the questions about his hitting ability quickly disappeared. He made his MLB debut in August of 2015, and hit his first big-league home run a few weeks later:

A combination of injuries (hamstring, broken wrist) and a competitive Washington Nationals roster (he played 2B and CF early in his career) kept Turner from getting regular time at shortstop until 2018. But he played all 162 games that year, and he’s been one of the best shortstops in baseball ever since:

2018-2021 (as of 4/29)

Trea Turner’s stats match up with the best shortstops in the game, and he seems to be getting better. He remains a truly elite runner, his power production has increased in each of the last three seasons, and he’s at least average on defense. He’s an outstanding player.

Would the Washington Nationals Trade Trea Turner?

That’s a good question. Why would any team want to move such a talented young player? Well, we don’t know for sure if they want to, and in fact there has been vague discussion of an extension. But the Washington Nationals are in a tough position.

For the last several years the Nats have employed the ‘stars and scrubs’ method of roster construction. They’ve invested heavily in pitching — this year alone they are paying Patrick Corbin, Brad Hand, Will Harris, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg more than $112 million.

Meanwhile they’ve surrounded Turner and generational talent Juan Soto with Starlin Castro, Ryan Zimmerman, and former Tigers greats Alex Avila, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer.

Washington has more than $100 million coming off the books next year, and Turner isn’t a free agent until 2023, so they can easily afford to sign him. But they’ll also be looking at a roster without Scherzer and with essentially no infielders.

And there is little help coming internally, as the Nationals have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

It’s a situation that brings to mind the 2009-2010 Detroit Tigers, who traded away one of their bright young stars (Curtis Granderson) to rebuild on the fly around their Hall-of-Fame slugger (Miguel Cabrera).

If the Washington Nationals want to remain competitive in the near future, the time to trade Trea Turner is now.

What Would Trae Turner Cost?

Fortunately we have a recent trade to give us good guidelines for what it might cost to land Turner. When Cleveland traded Francisco Lindor (1 year, $22.3m) to the Mets they threw in Carlos Carrasco (2 year, $27m) to bring back two young big-league infielders and two promising teenage prospects.

Trea Turner is making $13 million this year, and stands to make close to $20 million next year. The ZiPS projection system expects him to produce more than 9 WAR in that time, giving him a surplus value in the $60-70 million range.

That’s a lot of value, but not something the Tigers can’t match, at least according to the folks at Baseball Trade Values. By their reckoning, this deal would be enough to get it done:

In this trade the Nationals would be landing one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and a young switch-hitting infielder with promising tools but questions about his approach and defense. If the Nats aren’t interested in Castro, the Tigers could just as easily substitute/add Jeimer Candelario or Isaac Paredes.

There are dozens of other possible scenarios, including deals where the Tigers take on the remaining four years and $100 million of Corbin’s contract, but that would take levels of creativity and fiscal indulgence we simply haven’t seen from Detroit’s front office and ownership. And any trade scenario would likely hinge on Turner’s willingness to sign a long-term extension in Detroit.

But this franchise has to do something big soon.

The brutal start to 2021 has Detroit Tigers fans angry, depressed, and, perhaps worst of all, indifferent about the future of the team. Trading for Trea Turner would go a long way toward proving those in charge actually care about competing in the future.

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