Justin Turner’s Replacement: Orioles Got Us Covered

Justin Turner leaves a massive hole at the hot corner for the reigning Champions. The Dodgers have been linked to resigning Turner, trading for Lindor, Arenado, Kirs Bryant, etc. But we think there may be cheaper solutions to the Dodger’s problems.

We have 2 names, that are under the radar 3rd basemen/ right handed infielders for sale. They aren’t as good as Justin Turner, but they may be able to produce nearly as well. And believe it or not, they’re both leaving the team Justin Turner debuted for, the Orioles.

Highlights

  • Renato Nuñez
  • Lineup With Nuñez
  • Offer
  • Hanser Alberto
  • Lineup with Alberto
  • Offer
  • Still Sign Turner?
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Renato Nuñez

  • 2020 Stats
    • .256/.324/.492
    • 12 HR, 31 RBI, 29 R, 10 2B

In a surprising move, the Orioles released 26 year old Nuñez in November. The corner infielder is rough around the edges, but may take the leap to super stardom if he’s on the right team. (Especially when you consider he’s turning 27 next season. Players often breakout that year.)

His OPS in 2020 was a solid .816, after hitting 31 homers and a .771 OPS in his first full season in 2019. He’s actually improved every season of his career so far. Including his home run rate from 19 to 20. Granted his expected statistics regressed in 2020. So either those expected stats were going to correct, or his average was going to go down over a full season.

We think it’s the former considering he was starting to improve again during his last 4 games of the season. (6 for 15). Also considering he hit .276/.342/.514 during the most competitive month of August 2020.

Even though his barrel % was in the 80th percentile of major leaguers, his average exit velocity was only in the 13th percentile. He lost 3.6 MPH off his 2019 high. Yet, his barrel rate actually went up. He just had more weak contact, topped more, and got under the ball more.

And still, this batted ball profile of Nuñez drew comparisons to names like Hunter Dozier, Gleyber Torres, Dansby Swanson, and Mike Yastzremski. High praise if you paid attention around the league.

The biggest issue here is he is not a good third baseman. His career fielding percentage is .919. compared to the league average .958. He is listed only as a DH by the O’s even though he’s played the corner infield and outfield.

He performs well enough at first, but chances are Muncy would have to take on the hot corner and give Nuñez 1st for the sake of the team. If there is a DH, Nuñez would be a steal.

To us though, that is well worth the risk. We think Renato is about to take off at the plate next year. The Dodgers typically thrive where he struggles. If they can improve his patience at the plate, they could replace Turner with maybe 40 homers and another .850 to .950 OPS in Nuñez.

Even the conservative estimates on fangraphs have Nuñez hitting 25+ homers and slashing .240/.313/.448. They have Turner at 22 homers and .283/.373/.480. It’s hard to see him ever being the all around hitter Turner is, but he could be a walk and slug master like Muncy.

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Lineup With Nuñez

  1. Betts RF
  2. Seager SS
  3. Nuñez 1B
  4. Bellinger CF
  5. Smith C
  6. Muncy 3B
  7. Pollock LF
  8. Lux/Taylor 2B
  9. Pitcher

Our Offer to Nuñez

Renato may not come cheap. He was projected only $2.1-$3.9 million this year in arbitration, but he is likely looking to get paid while he’s in the prime of his career. He has been on his first contract up until now.

His offense can be outstanding, but his defensive woes bring down his overall value. Especially with teams being told there won’t be a universal DH next year (even though they all believe there WILL BE).

If we were the Dodgers, we would offer Nuñez two types of contracts for about the same value. Either in the realm of 4 years, $25 million dollars. Or shorter at 2 years for about $12 million.

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We like the long contract if they are genuinely willing to give him 1st base, or if a DH is in the plan long term. Nuñez is just now making a name for himself in the league. It’s possible that the Dodgers are locking down a breakout bat for a price with expectations of 1 WAR per year. We think Nuñez can possibly be a .270/.350/.500 over that time. If not better.

Otherwise, we like the idea of a short contract that bridges the gap for the young future Dodgers in Hoese, Busch, and currently Lux. Renato can play first and third with Muncy and Rios for a couple years as the Dodgers shift to their younger core.

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Hanser Alberto

  • 2020 Stats
    • .283/.306/.393
    • 3 HR, 22 RBI, 35 R, 3 SB

Next on the list, we have another Oriole. This time, it’s non-tendered Hanser Alberto, who offers almost the exact opposite of Nuñez. He’s more of a high average, low power, solid infielder (who can also play the outfield if really needed)

Like Renato, he played his first full season in 2019 with the O’s. (His age 27 season). He slashed a very useful .305/.329/.422 with 12 homers and 4 stolen bases. He spent about 60% of his time at 2nd, and the other 40% at 3rd. In 2020, he spent almost all of his time at 2nd in the hopes that Rio Ruiz would break out at 3rd. (It kinda worked)

Rumor has it the Orioles still hope to bring him back, but obviously they must not be too sold if they let him go through arbitration instead of paying him the $2.6 million he was projected. It appears that they don’t want to stick with the 28 year old if he costs too much. Especially with almost no hopes in the AL East next year. But their loss could be another team’s gain.

Statcast is not friendly to Alberto, except that his K% and Whiff % was elite. It seems that Hanser makes contact with the best 5-10% of the league, but couldn’t make enough good contact in 2020. He improved against off speed pitches, but he regressed dramatically in fastball hitting. (He OPS’d .946 against them in 2019, but only .739 in 2020). If he can put it all together, Alberto could be an all star at some point soon.

The biggest difference we would want him to change is actually to be less aggressive at the plate. He makes almost twice as much weak contact as the normal player because he chases the ball twice as much.

He’s just exceptionally good at contact with a 76% chase contact rate the past two years. If he learns to let some of those pitches go and focus more on the plate, the guy makes contact at a rate like Mookie Betts.

Last year, he swung on almost 62% of pitches. He swung at almost 55% of pitches out of the zone compared to 45% in the zone. He swung at the first pitch a career high 39% of the time. In his defense, pitchers threw him first pitch strikes more than ever for him.

It could be because he was the lead off hitter this last year. Or it could be because Alberto crumbles with 2 strikes on him. His OPS dips .160 points between a 1-0 count and 0-1.

His OPS with a full count is a mere .504. His BABip crashes down to .212 because of his bad protection. He doesn’t strike out much more than he walks, he just makes bad contact over letting close pitches go.

As weird as it sounds, it would be a sign of growth if Alberto starting striking out looking on close pitches over dribblers in the infield. At least half will start becoming walks.

Fangraphs has him hitting around 8 homers and slashing .281/.311/.400 in 2021. Almost the same OPS as Nuñez, but with less power and more average. But hypothetically, more room for improvement if he becomes selective.

Defensively, Alberto is more solid than Nuñez, but is also not a primary 3rd baseman. Still he played a perfect (1.000) 35 innings at the hot corner in 2020. In just under 500 innings in 2019 he had a fielding percentage of .960 at 3rd. His career rate at 3rd is .967. Justin Turner has a career fielding % of .966, good for 6th among active 3rd baseman.

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So Alberto is not far off from being defensively efficient, if not productive. He was actually in the 91st percentile in OAA in 2019 before regressing in 2020.

At worst, Alberto is a platoon dream for managers. Last year he slashed .375/.396/.521 against lefties versus .257/.278/.357 against RHP. In his full 2019 it was even more dramatic.

  • 2019 Splits
    • RHP: .398/.414/.534
    • LHP: .238/.269/.340

For the left handed heavy and defensively versatile Dodgers, Alberto fits the mold almost perfectly. He does not fit the walk and slug model of the 2019 champions though. If he can add some patience into his plate approach though, he could be starting in the infield all year. At worst though, Alberto is the perfect platoon player right now to rest Dodger lefties against LHP.

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Lineup With Alberto

  1. Betts
  2. Seager
  3. Bellinger
  4. Smith
  5. Muncy
  6. Pollock
  7. Alberto
  8. Lux/Taylor
  9. Pitcher

Our Offer to Alberto

Alberto is also looking for his first real paycheck. And at 28 and following his 2 best season, he likely wants some safety. Unfortunately, he’s not in a sellers market. That’s part of the reason the O’s let him test the market.

As we mentioned earlier, the O’s wouldn’t pay him the $2.6 million, so they won’t be hard to outbid here. They did trade Jose Iglesias which may help make room, but the O’s don’t have much wiggle room in normal years. And they did choose to keep other guys over him.

So far Hander has not been rumored to be in contact with many clubs, but he’s far down the FA totem pole. Once the big names start signing, the losers will still need to fill their holes.

Right now, the Cubs are another fit for the right hander. The Blue Jays could also find use for a utility right hander. We wouldn’t count out the matchup friendly and budget concerned Rays. The A’s have multiple holes in their infield. Or maybe even the Marlins look to him as a Villar replacement.

Overall, Alberto may have more suiters than it initially appears. But the starting price of $2.5 million a year really limits him in negotiations.

If we were the Dodgers, we would offer him a 3 year, $12-15 million contract. We would probably include opt outs for both sides or slightly front load the contract to make Alberto more moveable/dispensable if he doesn’t pan out.

That would allow the Dodgers financial flexibility and possibly a steal of a contract. In his last full season in 2019, his production of 1.9 WAR was worth double what we are saying to pay him. He kept the same pace in a shortened 2020. But it appears, he hasn’t earned that payday yet.

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If he keeps up that pace for the Dodgers over the next 3 seasons, he’d produce $48 million in market value.

Giving him a mid range contract on a powerful offense gives him motivation to produce for the next contract. He could almost exactly follow Turner’s footsteps, signing his big contract at age 31/2.

Conclusion

Ok, now for the best part. Both of these players are cheap. SO CHEAP that the Dodgers could STILL SIGN TURNER and stay on budget. Turner honestly deserves to retire a Dodger and they should offer him 2 years for $20 million if they can afford it. Whatever they can afford, give the max to Turner as the last offseason move.

It’s for that reason, that we personally hope that the Dodgers sign Alberto more as a Kiké replacement, and bring back Turner to handle the bulk of the hot corner for another year or two. Alberto can be used as a lefty killer and Hoese can learn from the best Dodgers 3rd baseman since Beltre.

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