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Justin Turner wants to be in that World Series dogpile

Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner celebrates the team’s win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the 2020 NLCS.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The last time Justin Turner wore his No. 10 Dodgers jersey, he was quarantined in a room in the home clubhouse at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, encountering emotions spanning the spectrum.

He was stunned when notified he tested positive for COVID-19 and pulled from Game 6 of the World Series. Then was thrilled when Julio Urías delivered the final strike to win the championship that had eluded the franchise for so long. Then he felt left out watching his teammates celebrate without him before joining them on the field to stoke a national controversy, drawing criticism from all corners for possibly exposing people to the virus.

“Watching the guys dogpile, personally, it felt like it was the third time I had to sit and watch a team celebrate winning the World Series,” Turner said. “That was tough. It’s something that’s still on the top of my list.

“I still have not been able to be on the field for the last out to celebrate a championship, and that’s something I’m determined to show up and work for every day and have that experience at the end of this year.”

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Dodgers pitchers and catchers held their first spring training workout Thursday, and Dave Roberts reminded his players to focus on what they can control.

Turner getting that shot again in 2021 with the Dodgers seemed like a foregone conclusion even as he entered free agency. The Lakewood native had risen from a nonroster invite to franchise cornerstone for seven seasons and remained one of the Dodgers’ most productive players in 2020. But the remarriage wasn’t that simple.

Turner apologized for his decision after Game 6 in a statement 10 days later, but wondered if the episode would affect his market. The third baseman quickly discovered, in conversations with the Dodgers and other clubs, that it wouldn’t. That still didn’t speed up the process.

Turner’s time as a free agent unofficially ended Saturday — more than three months after Game 6 — when he and the Dodgers agreed on a two-year deal with a club option for a third season. Turner was driving to Arizona when the parties came to terms. He pulled off the side of the road to announce the news on his social media platforms.

His free-agent stint officially ended Friday morning, just a few minutes before he took a seat in the Dodgers’ Zoom room at Camelback Ranch for a virtual news conference.

“It’s a place that’s always been special to me, and going through this offseason and free agent process, it’s something that never left my mind.”

Justin Turner, on the importance of L.A. and the Dodgers

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner warms up during batting practice before Game 1 the NLCS.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner warms up during batting practice before Game 1 the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves on Oct. 12.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Left-hander Caleb Ferguson was placed on the 60-day injured list to make room on the 40-man roster for Turner. Ferguson underwent Tommy John surgery last season and isn’t expected to return this year.

Turner wore a Dodgers cap in front of a Dodgers backdrop. His red beard appeared in its infant stage. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who preceded Turner on Zoom, said the third baseman is in excellent shape before suggesting that reporters ask Turner to twirl for the camera as proof.

Turner didn’t twirl, but he beamed.

“L.A. and the Dodgers hold a pretty big spot in my heart,” Turner said. “I’ve spent the last seven years making a ton of memories, really seeing my career turn around and take off. It’s a place that’s always been special to me, and going through this offseason and free-agent process, it’s something that never left my mind.”

Ultimately, the reason for the delay in Turner’s return came down to the contract’s length. Turner wanted a deal longer than two years and the Dodgers refused to budge, prompting Turner to test the market as the Dodgers lined up contingency plans for third base in case he landed elsewhere.

“Heading into the offseason, there’s a lot of potential pathways to go, but for us, all of our A scenarios had J.T. returning,” Friedman said. “That being said, we weren’t sure that would happen.”

The Dodgers are working with the governor’s office and health officials on proposals for Dodger Stadium to operate at limited capacity by opening day.

Turner said he prioritized winning a World Series in his search for a job. He found interest from a few clubs. He said being courted was flattering. He expected the process to go slowly but was surprised by the glacial pace.

“It felt like it was an eternity,” Turner said. “It felt like it took forever.”

In the end, Turner was the most prized position player left on the market. The Milwaukee Brewers were the other organization in contention and offered Turner a contract. Turner chose the Dodgers’ deal, which guarantees $34 million, according to people with knowledge of the situation. It includes an $8-million signing bonus and a club option for a third year.

“There were definitely some ups and downs in the process, where some things happened where I wasn’t sure I’d end up back with Dodgers,” Turner said. “But through the whole process . . . it was pretty reassuring that the desire to have me back here was still there. But there were times when I thought, ‘Oh man, this doesn’t look good. I’m not sure this was going to happen.’”

Turner’s signing concluded a late-offseason splurge for the Dodgers. Between Turner and Trevor Bauer, the Dodgers added $51 million to their competitive balance tax payroll, skyrocketing the total estimated payroll to nearly $260 million. The Dodgers, consequently, are projected to face the stiffest penalties for surpassing the $250-million threshold. As it stands, they’d have a tax bill of about $13 million as first-time CBT offenders and would have their first pick in the 2022 draft drop 10 spots.

Justin Turner hits a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 4 of the World Series on Oct. 24.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The club could soften the penalties by shedding payroll to dip under $250 million. Friedman said he’s sure trade discussions will take place during spring training, but insisted moving money isn’t a priority.

“The moves and things we’ve done the previous three years give us a little more flexibility now,” Friedman said. “We know there are some added costs associated with it, which is not ideal, but we feel like with the team we have, that the reward outweighs that.

“We’re at a level now that is not sustainable, but again, we don’t ever view our payroll in any one moment of time. We view it over a two, three, four, five-year period. From where we are right now, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is where we finish the year, and we’re OK with it.”

The money is paying for a roster that is widely considered the favorite to win the World Series as the Dodgers seek to become the first team to repeat as champions since 2000. Turner is back to help and finally get into that dogpile.


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