Justin Turner’s intent when he became a free agent last fall was to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 10th season.
Of course it was. Turner grew up 25 miles from Dodger Stadium, made the All-Star team twice as a Dodger, and was a pivotal player on nine playoff teams including the 2020 World Series champions. At 38, he wasn’t interested in changing what had worked so well.
Instead, Turner ended up with the Red Sox, as far away from Southern California as you can get in the majors.
“As things shook out and time went on, I started having conversations with other teams, including the Red Sox,” Turner said Friday after the deal was made official. “Seeing the different opportunities that were presented in front of me, I found it very intriguing.”
Current and former Red Sox players contacted Turner to make their pitch. Former Dodgers teammate and Turner’s good friend Kiké Hernández was chief among them.
“A lot of conversations there and excited to get in this clubhouse,” Turner said.
The Dodgers were among the four teams who offered Turner a contract, but the Red Sox demonstrated the seriousness of their interest with a one-year deal worth $8.3 million, plus a player option for $13.4 million in 2024 or a $6.7 million buyout.
With $1 million in incentives based on plate appearances, Turner could make $16 million and return to free agency.
“There’s a point that you realize this is a business,” Turner said. “[The Dodgers] had decisions they had to make and I had decisions I had to make. It just didn’t work out.”
The Dodgers agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal with former Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez on Dec. 17. Turner picked the Red Sox a day later. In essence, the teams swapped designated hitters.
Turner hit .278 with 13 home runs, 81 RBIs, and a .788 OPS in 128 games for the Dodgers last season as a third baseman and DH. He had an .889 OPS after the All-Star break.
Turner also has experience at second base, shortstop, and first base, but has played primarily third since 2015 with only occasional innings at other spots. The Sox plan to use him as a designated hitter with some games at first and third.
“Over the course of 162 [games] a lot of things happen and you might be asked to step into some different roles,” Turner said.
The Sox see Turner as adding a leadership presence to a clubhouse in transition. He also has 86 postseason games, 13th all-time.
The transition to Boston should be an easy one. In addition to Hernández, Turner played with Alex Verdugo and new Red Sox pitchers Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin while a Dodger.
Turner also played briefly with Sox manager Alex Cora when both were members of the 2010 Mets. Turner’s first plate appearance for the Mets was hitting for Cora on July 16. He drew a walk off Barry Zito.
“I think he’s a baseball rat, so to speak, loves the game, is constantly thinking the game,” Turner said of his new manager. “Looking forward to being in the same dugout as him and the many, many conversations to come.”
Counting the postseason, Turner has played only seven games at Fenway Park. He believes it will be a good match for his righthanded swing.
“I joked a lot in LA about how many times I flew out to the warning track,” Turner said. “I think it’s going to turn some of those warning-track fly outs into long singles or doubles.”
Lefthanded reliever Darwinzon Hernandez was designated for assignment to make room for Turner on the 40-man roster.
Hernandez, 26, was once a bright prospect, but appeared in only seven major league games last season and allowed 16 earned runs on 14 hits and eight walks over 6⅔ innings.
Hernandez opened last season in Triple A, underwent knee surgery, and did not reach the majors until July 14.
At 6 feet 2 inches, 250 pounds, and armed with a good fastball, Hernandez has always looked the part of the prospect. But he has a 5.06 ERA in 91 career games with 73 walks over 85⅓ innings.