Last month — nobody seems to recall the exact date, but it was between the end of the World Series and Thanksgiving — Dave Dombrowski, Sam Fuld, and Rob Thomson flew to Florida, sat down at Trea and Kristen Turner’s dinner table, and talked.
“It was just an afternoon, just really informal to get to know each other,” said Fuld, the Phillies’ general manager. “No different than any other three-hour, non-meal event that occurs in life.”
But the message made all the difference. The Phillies delegation made sure the Turners knew that Trea was their top free-agent priority. They told the 29-year-old shortstop that they wanted him to play in Philadelphia for the rest of his career.
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And that was how it happened. That was how Turner decided to walk away from more money from the San Diego Padres — $42 million more, to be exact — and sign an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Phillies.
“I didn’t really care to play the games and all that,” Turner said Thursday after buttoning up a red-pinstriped No. 7 jersey at a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. “I just asked them to be honest with me, and they were. And here we are.”
There were other factors, to be sure. With the Nationals, Turner played with Bryce Harper, whose opinions carried sway with Phillies owner John Middleton. Turner and Harper have remained friends, with Harper calling Turner “my favorite player in the league — it’s not even close.”
Turner also worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in Washington and texted him throughout the Phillies’ courtship. Turner’s wife grew up in Flemington, NJ, a one-hour drive from South Philly. Kristen Turner’s family still lives there.
And, well, $300 million is $300 million.
But everyone likes to be recruited. Everyone wants to hear that they’re someone’s first choice. It was well known within baseball that the Phillies hoped to add a shortstop to a pennant-winning roster, and they had four star free agents from which to choose.
“[Dombrowski] told me right there,” Turner said, “that I was their No. 1 target.”
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That stuck with Turner when San Diego entered the picture late in the process. The Padres drafted Turner in 2014, traded him a year later, and wished for a do-over. Their owner (Peter Seidler) and general manager (AJ Preller) are every bit as opportunistic as Middleton and Dombrowski, the Phillies’ president of baseball operations.
The Phillies met with Turner again late last week and made an offer. Then, as the winter meetings began Monday, the Padres made a bigger one for $342 million, $1 million more than shortstop Francisco Lindor got from the New York Mets. The Phillies bumped up their bid but, according to Middleton, knew it probably didn’t equal San Diego’s.
By then, though, they also thought they knew Turner well enough to feel confident. And Turner knew how much the Phillies wanted him.
“Money wasn’t necessarily the No. 1 option for us,” Turner said. “Obviously, it plays a part. We just pictured ourselves here. I pictured myself in this uniform. [Kristen] pictured living here and having family come and visit. We pictured playing with Bryce and [Kyle] Schwarber and a lot of those guys on the team now, Kevin Long.
“It seemed like a lot of those things added up and pointed us in this direction, and we were excited about it.”
From a baseball standpoint, the fit couldn’t be any better.
» READ MORE: Trea Turner would bring speed, solid contact to a power-packed Phillies offense
Not only does Turner play the one position where the Phillies had an opening, but he also possesses the speed and on-base skills to hit leadoff, a spot in the batting order that has given them trouble since Jimmy Rollins was traded after the 2014 season .
Schwarber led off for most of this season and batted .219 with a .317 on-base percentage and 38 homers out of that spot. He enjoys batting first, even though he’s hardly the prototypical leadoff man.
“But now you’ve got a guy like Trea Turner,” said Thomson, who insisted he hasn’t made any decisions and indicated that Schwarber may need to bat in a run-producing spot early in the season while Harper is recovering from elbow surgery. “That can change things.”
This much is certain: Turner will bat first or second. He has experience and has been productive in both spots. As a leadoff man, he’s a .303/.353/.488 hitter in 2,003 at-bats; as No. 2 hitter, he has batted .305/.359/.493 in 977 at-bats.
Turner impacts the game on the bases, too. He ranks in the 99th percentile in sprint speed, according to Statcast, and has led the league in stolen bases twice, with 43 in 2018 and 32 in 2021. Given the larger bases that will be part of the new rules next season, base- stealing may become more prevalent and valuable.
But Turner’s speed also helped the Phillies’ comfort in giving him not only the second-largest contract in franchise history after Harper’s $330 million deal but also an 11-year guarantee that will run through his age-40 season.
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There’s no telling how Turner, or any player, will age. But as the players dug into the data and tried to make their best prediction, they were emboldened by the fact that speed tends to age relatively well.
“He’s got plenty of other tools, but obviously his speed is elite. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Fuld said. “He’s been remarkably consistent in his ability to maintain that top-level speed. He’s as fast today as he was at age 23, and there’s not many guys who are able to sustain that.
“Do we think he’s going to be the fastest guy in the game when he’s 40? Probably not. But I think we’re betting on elite athleticism and a desire to be really, really good for the entirety of his career.”
Turner insists it’s a safe bet. He’s been betting on himself for years.
He chose to go to North Carolina State after the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him in the 20th round in 2011. Three years later, he was a first-round pick. In 2020, Turner rejected a $100 million contract extension from the Nationals. The Phillies signed him for three times as much.
“That’s kind of why me and my family are in this situation. I bet on myself every step of the way,” Turner said. “I’m a competitor. Whether it’s a board game or whatever, I don’t like losing. I’m going to compete for as long as I possibly can at the highest level I possibly can, and I’ll just bet on myself every step of the way.”