Tomase: How Justin Turner can help fill Red Sox' leadership void originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Dodgers have boasted insane offensive firepower over the last decade, from Adrian Gonzalez to Cody Bellinger to Mookie Betts and multiple All-Stars in between.
But talk to teammates and foes about the man who made the whole thing work, and they mention a surprising name: Justin Turner.
The well-traveled veteran is cut from the same leadership cloth (not to mention facial hair) as former Red Sox sluggers Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, with a bit of J.D. Martinez's obsessive attention to detail sprinkled in.
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At age 38, he'll effectively be asked to replace Martinez's faltering production at DH, as well as his presence as an offensive sounding board. Two years removed from his second All-Star appearance, as well as a career-high 27 home runs, there's so much more to Turner than meets the eye.
Just ask Kiké Hernández, his former teammate with the Dodgers.
"Oh man. That was his team in L.A.," Hernández said. "Hitters meetings, we preached a lot about grinding at-bats and not being nine hitters, but becoming one lineup and becoming one offensive unit. And it seemed like in every single meeting, he was the guy voicing that."
The Red Sox won't lack for motivation this season, not with pretty much everyone picking them to repeat in last place. But motivation can only be harnessed with leadership, and the departures of Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, and Martinez opened a massive void in that department. Turner may be just the man to fill it.
He certainly stepped up in Los Angeles after joining the Dodgers in 2014 as a minor league free agent who had already bounced from the Reds to Orioles to Mets. At 29, he hardly looked like a breakout candidate, but he turned an ability to play all four infield positions into 109 games and a .340 average.
He earned his first MVP votes two years later, setting career-highs in homers (27) and RBIs (90), and he made his first All-Star team in 2017 at age 32, establishing himself as a pull hitter who "dominates the strike zone," per Hernández. Along the way, Turner's flowing red beard and take-no-prisoners style made him one of the faces of the team.
So if you're looking for perseverance from a player who was handed nothing, Turner's your man.
"We talked about culture elements and coming from a great offensive group in L.A. and obviously his own journey from his time with the Mets and progressing to the Dodgers," said hitting coach Peter Fatse. "The thing we spent a lot of time on is how we want to come together as a group and kind of that 9 versus 1 approach as an offense, and I think he's done a really good job being part of an offense that has done that. If we're going to get to know each other, we're going to get to know the swing, but coming in he's going to be a big part of our leadership group from the get-go."
On the other side of the diamond, opponents recognized Turner's impact. New Red Sox outfielder Adam Duvall has spent his entire career in the National League, which means he saw a lot of Turner, including in back-to-back NLCS appearances with the Braves. He marveled at Turner's right-handed pull power -- which should play well in Fenway Park -- as well as his penchant for dramatic moments.
"He can hit," Duvall said. "I've been fascinated with his swing because he's one of those guys when you look in the playoffs, he's in the middle of it, and he usually has a big homer or a big hit. It's exciting to play against him. I'm eager to pick his brain on the swing and how he goes about it."
Turner is a lifetime .270 postseason hitter with 13 home runs and an .830 OPS in 86 games. He won it all in 2020, when he made a spirited case for the World Series MVP Award that went to Corey Seager by hitting .320 with a pair of homers vs. the Rays.
While it's hard to envision these Red Sox contending for a World Series, it's worth noting that contending is all Turner knows.
"We did make the postseason every year for the last nine years," Turner said. "And our teams fluctuated in L.A., from a ton of superstars to few superstars and whatnot. But the thing that I learned is on paper doesn't make you win a World Series. What it says on paper doesn't equate to a World Series. It's what you have in the clubhouse. It's the group of guys that you have. It sounds cliché, but it's getting all 26 guys pulling on the same end of the rope.
"I think there is a lot of talent in the clubhouse. I think there is a lot of opportunity to have success and to make a run in the playoffs. It wasn't too long ago that that run the Red Sox made in '21 was spectacular. And I don't think anyone was really putting their finger on the Red Sox, going into September, that they were going to make the run they did.
"So everyone has the opportunity that's in the clubhouse and it's, 'What do you make of it?'"