Trea Turner embraces Dodgers culture — a year after a trade he didn’t expect
The thought never really crossed Trea Turner’s mind.
As he drove home from Philadelphia last July, forced into self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 during a series against the Phillies, Turner didn’t know that he had just played his final game for the Washington Nationals.
Less than a week away from last year’s trade deadline, the All-Star hadn’t seriously entertained the possibility he’d be traded by the only team he’d played for in his MLB career.
“I never thought it would happen,” Turner said.
Almost a year later, Turner was welcomed back to Washington as a visitor Monday night, returning to Nationals Park with the Dodgers for the first time since they acquired him in a blockbuster deal last July.
Turner was reflective in his homecoming, if not emotionally sentimental.
He recalled highlights of his Nationals’ tenure — moments big, mainly the team’s 2019 World Series championship, and small, such as daily drives to the ballpark or annual trips to spring training.
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He caught up with former coaches and teammates. He tipped his cap to the crowd during a pregame video tribute.
“It’s fun reminiscing, watching all those videos, seeing the good memories they used up there,” Turner said afterward. “It’s so long ago, it feels like.”
Indeed, in the span of just 10 months, so much for Turner has changed. He moved 3,000 miles away. His burgeoning career diverged down a new path.
And in his first full season with in L.A., he’s focused on accomplishing something his new team couldn’t do last year — even after a transformational trade that the once-apprehensive shortstop has come to appreciate.
“I don’t think it was a bad thing by any means,” Turner said. “Because I ended in a really good spot, with a really good team, and a chance to win more World Series.”
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At this time last year, the Nationals still thought they could be title contenders again.
They struggled in the first couple months of the 2021 season, but then got hot in June, moving two games over .500 barely a month before the deadline.
“At one point, it felt like we could have made a run,” said Daniel Hudson, a reliever on the team who signed with the Dodgers this offseason.
But then, the bottom fell out. It started with a sweep at the hands of the Dodgers to begin July. It spiraled into an 8-18 stretch that dropped the Nationals out of the playoff picture shortly after the All-Star break.
By the time Turner got COVID — he was removed in the middle of a game against the Phillies on July 27, four days before the deadline — rumors were beginning to swirl about every valuable asset on the team, the 28-year-old shortstop included.
Turner first saw his name mentioned in reports the day before but wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Unlike several pending free agents — including Max Scherzer, Hudson and five others who were eventually dealt — Turner was under team control for another season and a half. And while he and the team hadn’t made progress in contract extension talks, he wasn’t looking to leave.
“I didn’t necessarily know what to believe,” Turner said. “Those few days were back and forth. I’m getting traded. Ah, no, I’m not. All you basically have is Twitter to look at. It was kind of a wild ride.”
The Dodgers approached the deadline in a very different place.
With Trevor Bauer on administrative leave, their pitching staff battling injuries, and their lineup needing one more big bat up top, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman knew the team was going to be looking for top-end talent.
And the Nationals quickly emerged as the most enticing trade partner.
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The clubs’ initial talks centered on Scherzer only, Friedman said. The Nationals wanted top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz in return. The Dodgers balked at such a high price for a rental player, even one with three Cy Young awards.
As the week progressed, however, Turner’s name entered the discussion.
At first, Friedman said it felt like a long shot. “Was not necessarily that optimistic about that, or hopeful,” he said recently. But then, “they came back and said they were willing to engage along those lines. Then we kind of all got to work on trying to put the deal together.”
There were complexities. In addition to Ruiz, top pitching prospect Josiah Gray also became part of the package. Because Scherzer was a 10-year veteran who’d spent five seasons with the Nationals, he had to approve any deal.
The day before the deadline brought another unexpected twist. Soon after the Dodgers submitted one proposal to the Nationals, a report surfaced that the San Diego Padres had already reached a deal to acquire Scherzer.
“For about half a second when I saw that report, I got nervous,” Friedman said.
The report quickly proved to be wrong, though.
The Padres ultimately pivoted to a smaller deal for Hudson and soon faded from playoff contention.
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“They were thinking they were gonna get a Cy Young winner; instead, they get a middle reliever,” Hudson said, with a self-deprecating laugh. “I can understand why guys would be disappointed.”
The Dodgers, meanwhile, finalized their trade for Scherzer and Turner by the end of the day, adding the final two pieces to a team they hoped would be capable of a second-consecutive title run.
“I remember talking to Max right before the trade, and right after,” Turner said. “He was super excited, which made me feel good about it. Because I didn’t know what to expect.”
A year later, the final grade for the blockbuster trade remains incomplete.
While Turner and Scherzer helped fuel the Dodgers’ strong finish to the regular season, the club failed to win its division. Failed to defend its World Series championship. Failed to re-sign Scherzer this winter or lock up Turner, a free agent after this season, to a long-term extension.
The Dodgers also lost top-end prospects in Ruiz, who has gotten off to an impressive start in his first full MLB season, and Gray, already a fixture in the starting rotation who will face his former team for the first time Tuesday night.
But during this week’s series in Washington, the Dodgers’ first meeting with the Nationals since last year’s trade, there are no regrets — not from Turner, who has continued to comfortably settle in to his new home, nor from the team, which was able to build another star-studded roster this year knowing Turner would be at the heart of the lineup.
“Yeah, we didn’t win the World Series last year, but I felt our organization gave ourselves a chance,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And this year, we have a player now in Trea who’s our everyday shortstop. I think he was a win-win for everybody.”
While he finished last season on a tear, winning the NL batting title and finishing fifth in MVP voting, Turner had adjustments to make.
The team’s highly detailed internal process, from daily scouting reports to overarching analytic evaluations, was something he’d never experienced.
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Roberts felt there was a point last year when Turner “might have been a little bit overwhelmed.”
“I have to dumb it down a little bit and not look at so much, because it’s never-ending,” Turner acknowledged. “But having that information is really good. And then just learning to apply it, I think they do a good job of that here.”
Even with Turner currently leading the team in RBIs (32), ranking second in batting average (.289) and entering Tuesday on a 15-game hitting streak, his growing familiarity led Roberts to recently make a hopeful declaration.
“I really believe there’s a lot more in there, as far as performance,” the manager said.
Friedman has seen a difference, as well.
“I think it’s hard for a star player to get traded in the middle of a season, to just leave a situation and dynamic that helped contribute to them becoming a star player,” Friedman said. “I’ve noticed, even from spring training through now, Trea being in a way more comfortable spot in terms of interacting with teammates and coaches. It’s been fun watching him get to that level.”
It’s much closer to the comfort Turner felt with the Nationals, even before they decided to tear their roster down and begin to rebuild.
Despite their struggles last season, Turner insisted he didn’t want to leave. He envisioned himself playing in Washington long-term. Right up until last year’s trade was official, he had a hard time picturing himself anywhere else.
“I don’t know if it took a while to come to grips,” he said Monday, looking back again at the blockbuster deal. “I just think it caught me a little off guard.”
However, he said he doesn’t feel any ill will toward his old team and tries not to think about what could have been.
A year removed from the trade, he has embraced his new surroundings in L.A.
Whatever doubts he once had about fitting in with the Dodgers have long since faded away.
“I said it when I was there, I would have loved to play there for the rest of my career, and I was serious about it,” Turner said. “But it didn’t work out that way … Things happen, things change. And a lot of times, they work out for the better.”
“I think this one,” he added, “is working out well.”
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