He’s the other shortstop.
The one who no one talks about outside Washington, D.C.
The one who doesn’t have a $300 million contract – at least not yet.
He also happens to be perhaps the best of the bunch.
We’re talking about Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals.
Why, since helping lead the Nationals to the World Series championship in 2019, Turner has statistically been the best all-around shortstop in the game.
Turner led all shortstops since the start of last season with a .326 batting average, .382 on-base percentage, .580 slugging percentage, stolen bases (17), weighted runs created (155) and WAR (3.9) through Friday, according to FanGraphs.
His defense also has been sensational this year, tied for first among all shortstops with five defensive runs saved, after making nine errors in 59 games a year ago with a negative 5 DRS.
“He’s the most valuable guy we have,’’ Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says. “People talk about Juan Soto, but if Soto goes down, we’ve got other outfielders. If Turner goes down, we really don’t have that guy.’’
Says Nationals manager Davey Martinez: “He’s our catalyst, he’s what makes us go.’’
Certainly, the Nationals don’t win the World Series without Turner, they’re probably not a contender this year without him, and they may not be going anywhere without him in the future.
“We never got our ring ceremony, and weren’t able to raise our [championship] banner in front of our fans,’’ Rizzo said, “but we still had the parade of all parades. I think I was drunk for a month after that one.’’
Turner is the straw that stirs the Nats’ drink and in a year, he’s going to be an awfully expensive one when he hits free agency.
Turner, 27, has watched Francisco Lindor get $341 million from the New York Mets and Fernando Tatis $340 million from the San Diego Padres.
This winter, All-Star shortstops Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros, Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies and Javy Baez are free agents.
A year later, it’ll be Turner’s turn.
“I don’t care if I’m in front of them or behind them,’’ Turner told USA TODAY Sports, “I just want people to be happy and make as much money as possible. It’s good for the player, and good for the game.
“It’s unbelievable how much talent there is among shortstops. They all bring something a little different to the table. I’m looking forward to seeing guys make their [free-agent] decisions.
“It’s going to be weird seeing some of these guys in different uniforms next year.’’
If it’s up to Turner, he’d just as soon stay put in Washington. He had serious contract talks with the Nationals during the 2020 spring until COVID-19 shut down the game. Now, his price tag just keeps going up.
“I’d love to stay with the Nats,’’ Turner said. “There will be guys taking up spots this winter, so there’s only going to be so many seats at the table. I’m not worrying about it now. I live my life day to day.’’
The Nats are expected to resume contract talks this winter, making sure that Turner never sniffs free agency.
“We had some momentum when we were exchanging proposals on a long-term deal before COVID hit,’’ Rizzo said. “But we will talk again. We’d love to get him locked up. He and Soto are our priorities.
“We will make every effort to get it done.’’
It’s unknown exactly what it will take to sign Turner, but after seeing what transpires this winter in the shortstop free-agent class, the Nationals should have a good idea, if they don’t already after seeing the Lindor and Tatis contracts.
“I don’t know if that will help us or hurt us,’’ Rizzo says, “but it certainly gives us a ceiling what will transpire.’’
Turner, who can simply sit back and watch what develops in the free-agent class, is certainly making his own case to be the next $300 million player. In the last week, he hit two home runs in one game against the Toronto Blue Jays one night and produced four hits the next.
The ultimate individual goal, he says, is to obtain 200 hits and score 100 runs a season. He was on pace to reach the milestones a year ago when he led the league with 78 hits while scoring 46 runs in the abbreviated 60-game season, which would have translated to 210 hits and 124 runs during a regular 162-game schedule.
“Hits and runs are the numbers that really impress me,’’ Turner says. “It means you’re contributing a lot to your team by being in the lineup every single day, and scoring runs is how you win games.
“I just want to be a complete player, and contribute to my team every way I can.’’
Well, when you have 31 home runs, 89 RBI, 12 runs, 38 stolen bases and a slash line of .313/.370/.538 over the past 162 games, there’s not a shortstop who is a more complete player.
“Offensively, he’s as good as any shortstop in the game,’’ Rizzo says. “He creates havoc where he can drive in runs, score runs, hit, hit with power, be on the top of the lineup, be in the middle, and is also the best baserunner in the league.
“I don’t like to compare him to anyone, but all I know is that he’s a terrific all-around player.
“Our priority is to keep him for a long time.’’
What, us worry?
The Nationals were under .500 entering May, rumors are flying that three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer could be prime trade bait this summer, andRizzo can’t help but sit back and laugh.
“With everything we’ve gone through with the COVID, and the way we’ve played,’’ Rizzo tells USA TODAY Sports, “I’m proud of these guys. We’ll be there in the end. I think 88 wins or so wins the division.
“And we’re as good as anybody in the division.’’
Why, if the Nats don’t open the season with 11 of their players sidelined by COVID-19 and the protocols, maybe the idea that Scherzer could be available is mocked.
Come on, wasn’t it just two years ago the Nationals started 19-31 and wound dancing on the field five months later holding the World Series trophy?
“That’s why I don’t listen to any of that stuff,’’ Rizzo says. “Come on, the stuff on Scherzer came out after our seventh game of the season. Game 7! Come on, man. If we were 10 games out in July I could see it, but not now.
“When you open the season without 11 players, four starting position players, two starters, your closer and your setup guy, and play the teams we played, you feel good about where we are.
“I like the fight in this team. We’re going to be just fine.’’
Besides, when you enter the weekend without a single team in the NL East having a winning record, what’s not to like?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it stays like this all year,’’ Turner says. “Nobody is going to run away with it.’’
GOAT doing GOAT things
Just when you think we’ve seen the best in Mike Trout, along comes this season.
He’s off to the greatest start of his career with a slash line of .425/.523/.781.
The last player to have these totals through April with at least 75 plate appearances was Barry Bonds in 2004, and the last to produce this offense in any month was Lance Berkman in May 2008.
“A player like Trout comes every 50 years in this game,” says future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. “We just witness greatness every day. I’m blessed that I was out in the front seat, hitting behind him for a while, and now wearing the same uniform and taking the field every day.”
It’s unknown, of course, how long Trout can continue this stunning pace, with nine years left on his $360 million contract extension.
Pujols knows first-hand how injuries and Father Time can be an ugly nemesis.
He hit .328 with a .420 on-base percentage, .617 slugging percentage with 445 homers and 1,329 RBI in 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He has hit .256 with a .312 on-base percentage and .448 slugging percentage with 222 homers and 783 homers in his 10 years with the Angels.
“I had the best 10 years ever that anybody had,’’ Pujols said, “and I thought I was going to have the best career, I was going to continue to do it for the rest of my life. It’s just impossible to do that. I just hope he can stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, he probably can carry that for a while.”
Enough with all of the laughs when a position player enters a game in a blowout loss.
When a team like the Chicago Cubs are using three position players in a game, despite having a 14-man pitching staff, it’s embarrassing..
We have already had 17 position players pitch in games this year, the most in history for the month of April, and this is with a 26-man roster.
Instead of everyone yukking it up and having the position player on zoom calls, the focus should be on how embarrassing it is for the team to even reach a point.
In the words of one Hall of Famer who sent a text after the Cubs’ 10-0 loss to Atlanta: “When does integrity of the league comes to play?”
Power outage in Queens
The most surprising thing in the month of April according to an informal survey of scouts and baseball executives?
The New York Mets’ offense.
– Through Friday, the team was last in the major leagues in runs (58), homers (15) and slugging percentage (.349).
– They scored more than four runs in a game just three times in April.
– Jacob deGrom has a 0.51 ERA and the Mets are 2-3 in his starts, being shut out twice.
– Mets owner Steve Cohen couldn’t resist tweeting: “I think we are all surprised at the lack of hitting so far.’’
– Mets fans are booing their new $341 million man, Francisco Lindor, who had a brutal slash line of .189/.299/.243 with one homer, three RBI and two extra-base hits in April.
“It’s interesting and it’s funny and it sucks,” Lindor said. “It doesn’t feel right, for sure. Interesting, because it’s the first time that it’s happened in my career, and funny because I’m getting booed and people think I’m going to go home and just think about why I’m getting booed.
“I get it. They’re booing because there’s no results. That’s it. They expect results. I expect results, and I get it. It’s part of the job.
“I just hope they cheer and jump on the field when I start hitting home runs and when I start helping the team on a daily basis a lot more than I’m doing right now.”
Remember when the Chicago White Sox non-tendered Carlos Rodon during the winter, only to bring him back as insurance two weeks before spring training, believing he can be a valuable lefty out of the pen if he doesn’t make the starting rotation.
Well, one month into the season, Rodon has been their best starter, with 29 other teams kicking themselves for not trying to sign him themselves.
Rodon finished the month of April with a 4-0 record and 0.72 ERA, with a no-hitter in one game and a career-high 12 strikeouts in another.
“Just look at what he can be when he’s healthy,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa says. “I’ve seen him when he’s healthy, you all have, and he’s not one of those back-of-the-rotation starters.
“What a lift he’s given us.”
April’s AL surprise
Say hello to the Kansas City Royals.
Remember the criticism when Royals GM hired Mike Matheny to replace Ned Yost as their manager?
Well, the Royals ended the month with the second-best record in baseball, 15-9, after not having a winning record since their 2015 World Series title. Their April record in the last three full seasons: 23-47.
MLB All-Star Game finds new home after leaving Atlanta
“I think a lot of it has to do with the belief,” Matheny said. “We talk about this a lot, but they walk out there expecting good things to happen. Many of us have been part of teams where the opposite is there, and that’s a tough rut to get out of. But the one that they’re on right now — I want them to continue to think that way, feel that way for as long as we can.”
They are doing this with a rotation that earns a combined $28.1 million. Lefty Danny Duffy – earning more than half of that – is 4-1 with a 0.60 ERA through five starts and is eligible for free agency after this season.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt couldn’t stop raving about Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper after he sent a text message to Cardinals pitcher Genesis Cabrera, telling him there are no hard feelings after being hit in the face by Cabrera’s 97-mph fastball.
“You want to talk about a first-class move,’’ Shildt said. ““Whoever’s a fan of Bryce Harper, whoever has children that are fans of Bryce Harper, support that guy. Because what he sent over in a message today was completely a class act.’’
Said Harper, who prayed for Cabrera: “I just wanted to make sure he’s OK because he’s going to be a successful pitcher in this league for a long time. He’s got really good stuff. And I just wanted to make sure he was good.”
Up and in – and dangerous
Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who played seven years with Harper, says inexperienced and wild pitchers like Genesis Cabrera are posing a serious threat to the safety of hitters. San Diego Padres reliever Austin Adams has already hit five batters in just 7 ⅓ innings this season.
“The thing with the game now is all these guys throw 95-100 and half of them don’t know where it’s going or know how to pitch,’’ he told a Washington sports talk radio show.. “You see these teams just call up these guys that throw 95 or 100 mph and the team doesn’t really care. They’re just trying to see if they have anything in them.
“A couple years ago, these guys would be in Double-A or Triple-A for another year trying to learn how to pitch but these teams just call them up to see if they can kind of hit lightning in a bottle. If not, they send them back down. They don’t care if they hit four guys on the other team. What does it matter to them? The GM of the other team is not in the box, so he doesn’t care. It’s a different kind of game but it is what it is and that’s where we’re at.”
There were a record 1,984 hit by pitches in baseball’s last full season in 2019, and we’re on pace to eclipse it this year.
Around the league…
– Shohei Ohtani continues to defy the logical senses being an elite pitcher and a dynamic hitter, but how long can it last? “If you’re the Angels, you eventually need him to pick just one because it’s too big of a strain,’’ one AL executive said. “But for the Angels, he’s got too good of an arm not to be in the rotation and too good of a bat not to be in the lineup. I honestly don’t know how mentally he can prepare himself to do both.’’
– Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who spent 28 years as a Yankee advisor, has now joined the Houston Astros front office, focusing on charity endeavors with owner Jim Crane.
– The Phillies opened the season winning their first four games. They spent the rest of April failing to win back-to-back games.
– The Dodgers now have had 12 players from their 2016 draft class reach the major leagues. Stunning.
– How riveting were the two series between the Padres and Dodgers? They played 68 innings, the Dodgers led at the end of 25 innings, the Padres at the end of 22, the teams were tied 21 innings, and neither team led by more than two runs in 60 innings. “You have two clubs that are super talented and playing a great brand of baseball,’’ Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “Overall, I think it’s great for the sport.” The only drawback for both teams was the emotional letdown after their series. Their combined record immediately following the two series was 1-9.
– Kudos to the Red Sox’s scouting department for plucking Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft. He has been terrific, striking out 18 in 13 ⅓ innings without giving up a run. The Red Sox eventually plan to put him in the starting rotation.
– Atlanta pitcher Ian Anderson is the first pitcher since 1920 to have three starts of at least six innings while allowing no more than one hit among first 11 career games.
– Pardon the Twins for hating the extra-inning rule and doubleheaders. They are 0-9 this year in games that aren’t nine innings.
– Just in case you’re wondering what a lousy April can do for your playoff hopes? In the past 40 full seasons, none of the 305 teams had a .425 or worse winning percentage in April and won the World Series. The last team to pull it off was the 1980 Phillies when they were 6-9. The 1979 Pirates are the only team to have a .400 or worse winning percentage in April, playing a minimum of 15 games, to win the World Series.
– Cleveland starter Shane Bieber quietly eclipsed Hall of Famer Randy Johnson with his 11-strikeout game Friday. It was his 18th consecutive start with at least eight strikeouts. “It’s kind of surreal just to be able to experience that,’’ says Bieber, whose 68 strikeouts through six starts is second behind only Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Bieber also has not permitted more than three earned runs in a regular season start since Sept. 15, 2019.
– The only players to hit at least 50 homers and steal 40 or more bases over a 162-game span? Barry Bonds (1993-1995) and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. (2019-2021).
– John Means quietly had a spectacular month for the Baltimore Orioles, going 3-0 with a 1.70 ERA and 0.84 WHIP, striking out 38 batters in 37 innings. “He’s turning into a complete pitcher,’’ Orioles manager Brandon Hyde says.