Trea Turner would bring speed, solid contact to a power-packed offense

First in a four-part series on the star free-agent shortstops who are expected to draw interest from numerous teams, including the Phillies.

Three weeks before he returned to the lineup, as his broken left thumb continued to heal, Bryce Harper joined NBC Sports Philadelphia’s telecast of an Aug. 4 games at Citizens Bank Park. At one point, John Kruk mentioned All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.

“He’s my favorite player in the league,” Harper said. “It’s not even close.”

Stop the presses — uh, the internet.

» READ MORE: Phillies have payroll flexibility to add another high-priced player, Dave Dombrowski says

The clip went viral, as these things do. Turner’s wife, Kristen, posted it to Instagram, tagged Harper’s wife, Kayla, and said she missed her. Astute observers noted that Turner and Harper were teammates in Washington, and Phillies owner John Middleton admits that he has “open conversations” with Harper about potential free-agent signings and other personnel moves.

Connect a few dots, including Turner’s on-the-record admiration for Harper, and well, fast forward to opening day and cue Dan Baker: Now batting for the Phillies, shortstop, number seven, Treaaaaaa TURRRRR-ner!

OK, a quick reality check: Although Harper’s opinions do carry sway in the organization and the $330 million star “makes his views known,” according to Middleton, Turner is no longer 10 years old. He’s unlikely, then, to base a hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars decision on being able to play with his friends.

If the Phillies land Turner, it will be because they made him the best offer. Given their recent history of spending big for free agents that they wanted — Harper ($330 million), Zack Wheeler ($118 million), JT Realmuto ($115.5 million), Nick Castellanos ($100 million), and Kyle Schwarber ($79 million) — and their need for a shortstop after coming within two victories of winning the World Series, they must be considered among the favorites in the Turner derby.

The market includes three other star shortstops. Carlos Correa is the youngest (28) and, unlike the others, isn’t tied to draft-pick compensation; Xander Bogaerts is a two-time World Series champion and played for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in Boston; Dansby Swanson has a Gold Glove and exemplary leadership qualities.

But Turner, 29, is the most dynamic of the group. Since 2018, he leads the majors in stolen bases (149) and ranks second in hits (802) and seventh in Fangraphs’ wins above replacement (24.9). He rated as an average shortstop over the last two seasons but has saved nine runs more than average over the course of his career.

And have you seen those buttery-smooth slides?

The Phillies’ offense is predicated on slugging, with Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Castellanos, Realmuto, Harper, and Brandon Marsh all striking out at least 20% of the time this season. Turner has an 18% career strikeout rate. And with the forthcoming rule changes, notably a ban on the shift and larger bases, hitters who put the ball in play and use their speed will be more valuable.

Asked in September if anyone controls the running game on both sides of the ball better than Realmuto, Harper cited Turner.

“I mean, Trea’s unbelievable,” Harper said. “He’s incredible. Just the way he plays, the way he runs, he does a really good job on the bases.”

Turner would fit well at the top of the Phillies’ order or in the No. 2 spot, a .300 hitter from the right side sandwiched between lefty-swinging Schwarber and Harper.

» READ MORE: Getting $100 million man Nick Castellanos right for 2023 is a priority for the Phillies

But how high will the price go?

Corey Seager set the free-agent shortstop record for total value last year with a 10-year, $325 million contract from Texas. Correa established the annual salary benchmark for shortstops at $35.1 million before opting out after the first year of a three-year deal with Minnesota.

Turner likely will take aim at both marks. He’s 10 months older than Seager and unlikely to get as many years and overall dollars. But if he falls short of $300 million, he may still top Seager’s annual salary and approach Correa’s 2022 payout over seven or eight seasons.

There are other considerations. Turner grew up in Florida and went to college at North Carolina State. His wife is from New Jersey. He spent 6½ seasons in Washington and is believed to prefer playing on the East Coast again after a year and a half with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

» READ MORE: What Phillies manager Rob Thomson says he has learned in the aftermath of controversial World Series pitching decision

Dombrowski said last week that the Phillies have “some flexibility” to add another high-priced free agent. Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius combined to make $28 million this year, as calculated for luxury-tax purposes. The Phillies could put that money toward a marquee shortstop and still address other needs, chiefly a mid-rotation starter and a couple of leverage relievers.

“We’re going to push the needle and try to win,” Dombrowski said last week. “I mean, we’re close, right? We’re going to do what we can to make our club a championship-caliber club.”

That may be the Phillies’ most effective recruiting pitch. Not only would Turner get a chance to play with Harper again, but he’d join his pal on a roster that figures to contend for another pennant. At the All-Star Game, Turner said he thought Harper was “leading [the Phillies] in the right direction.”

And that was before their unexpected World Series run.

“When I was a free agent, I was looking at other teams and saying, ‘These guys play well together, they’ve been successful. This would be a nice place to go,’” Realmuto said. “I think that with this run we went on, we put ourselves on the map for that conversation.”

Want to bet Turner and Harper have already discussed it?

Now, about the money.

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