Phillies Use Bryce Harper Model To Sign Trea Turner For Next Decade-Plus

The first domino in this winter’s historic class of free agent shortstops has fallen, with Trea Turner signing with the Philadelphia Phillies for $300M over 11 years.

Now, those of you who read my article just last week on Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson know that I am not exactly Turner’s biggest fan. My basic thesis is that Turner’s game is almost totally built upon the physical tool that tends to fade most quickly, raw speed.

Turner doesn’t hit the baseball all that hard, he’s a good but not great defensive shortstop who has routinely been mentioned as a candidate for a shift to 2B over the years, and his plate discipline is quite ordinary. On the other hand, he’s durable, can fly, and that speed turns groundouts into singles, singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Thing is, once his speed begins to desert him, or least drift toward the average range, all of that good stuff goes away, and homers and walks aren’t just going to emerge from the ether to replace them.

All of that said, I’m a bit more sanguine about this deal than I thought I would be. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that Turner is going to be a .280 hitter with few extras at some point, as soon as four years down the road. I had assumed that the market (led by the Phillies) would reward Turner with a seven-year deal, perhaps in excess of $30M per season.

As it turns out, the Phillies used the Bryce Harper model to identify a player they coveted, and wanted to sign for the rest of his career. When Harper was expected to fetch a 10-year, $300M or so deal when he hit free agency at age 26, the Phillies went even longer on the term, but not all that much higher on the total financial commitment. The end result was a 13-year, $330M deal that essentially made Harper a Phillie for the rest of his career, and saved the club a little from an AAV perspective, allowing them to surround him with better players over the years.

I was a huge backer of the Harper deal for many reasons. First, he’s Bryce Harper, a true generational player. Secondly, there’s something in the deal for both club and player. In most of the huge deals of recent years, players have focused on maximizing both total financial outlay and average annual salary. The Phils gave Harper the huge nut he wanted, but insisted on the lower AAV.

Now, with Turner, they’ve done it again.

Trea Turner is not Bryce Harper. In my opinion, he is NOT a generational player. But he is a very good one, and is likely to play around his current peak level for the next three seasons or so. And once his decline begins, he’s not the type who’s going to just disappear. He does hit his grounders hard, and uses the entire field – those are young player skills that age well. Even with regression of his speed, he’s going to hit for average and rack up hits, like a late-career version of Pete Rose, while playing in the middle infield.

The Phils current nucleus is geared to win inside that three-year peak window – they were probably a little ahead of schedule in this year’s run to the World Series.

While this deal might not go down as a financial winner over the long haul, do you think any Philadelphia Phillies player, front office member or fan is going to care if a World Series Championship flag is flying over Citizens Bank between now and 2025? Those things fly forever.

The Phils might not be adding any more stars to the nucleus for the foreseeable future, but their ability to spread the cost of their largest acquisitions over longer terms will enable them to fine-tune their supporting cast and bolster the 20-25th men on the roster in the short term. That could mean a better bench and bullpen, areas of major weakness in Philly in the recent past.