After three unspectacular—if not solid—years as a utility player with New York, Justin Turner was somewhat surprisingly non-tendered last December. While the move itself was a mild eye-opener, the so-called reason for it seemed even stranger. Soon after being cut loose, word leaked out that Turner was let go because of a "lack of hustle," something GM Sandy Alderson didn't deny when questioned about the whispers. Two months later, the defending National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers inked Turner to a minor league deal, bringing the former Cal State Fullerton standout home.
While Turner wasn't the most popular Met, his consistent banter with fans through his Twitter account (@redturn2)—along with his ceremonial post-game-interview whipped-cream pies to the face—made him popular with many fans. Though he compiled a pedestrian .265/.326/.370 batting line in his four seasons in Flushing, his hustle and willingness to play multiple positions endeared him to manager Terry Collins, who used him in a career-high 117 games in 2011. As the Mets visit the Dodgers for a three-game set this weekend, Collins spoke glowingly of his former player, telling ESPNNewYork.com:
"He was always ready for whatever we needed him for. Play left field one day, third base, second base, whatever. It's been a good situation with him over there [with the Dodgers]."
Much like his 2011 campaign with the Mets, Turner has found himself playing more than anticipated for the Dodgers. Raised in the greater Los Angeles area, Turner has turned in the finest season of his career, hitting .314/.386/.441 in 229 at-bats. Amazingly, he is second on the Dodgers with a 2.2 fWAR, trailing only All-Star Yasiel Puig. Not too bad for a player who entered 2014 with a career fWAR of 0.8 in 318 career games.
So what does this all mean to the Mets? The simple and most direct answer is very little. Major leaguers like Turner who make their living as spot starters and pinch hitters fluctuate wildly from year to year, very similar to middle relievers. Being non-tendered may have come as a surprise because of the flexibility he provided Collins, but no one connected to the Mets lost sleep when the move was made and it's a near certainty they still aren't.
Though Turner will never enjoy a highlight reel like former teammate David Wright, he has had his share of interesting moments in New York, the biggest possibly being his departure. It's not often a player of Turner's stature garners enough attention to be smeared on his way out the door, but smear the Mets did.
Although he speaks highly of his time in New York and of his former teammates, Turner didn't mince words earlier this year when questioned about the circumstances surrounding his departure, telling Howard Megdal:
"I think the issue is that nobody takes responsibility for what they say. It's all 'a source said that they're not happy with him.' It's like, you know what? If you're gonna come out and gonna attack a guy's character, and his work ethic, be man enough to put your name on it. Don't say 'This is off the record,' and then off the record means they're gonna write it anyway."
Sadly, this is nothing new to the Mets and stature has little to do with it. Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis have drawn the wrath of those in the organization in recent years. Even Carlos Beltran, perhaps the best all-around player New York has ever employed, wasn't immune. But that's a problem for the Mets.
It doesn't seem to matter to Turner. He's home, he's winning, and he's happy.