Justin Turner

Jon Durr/USA Today Sports

Justin Turner came impossibly close to signing with Red Sox instead of Dodgers

John Tomase
October 23, 2018 - 12:56 am

There’s only one David Ortiz, but when it comes to the postseason, Justin Turner might be the next best thing.

And to think they were nearly Red Sox teammates.

It was only four years ago that Turner found himself free to sign anywhere after being dropped by the Mets. Then-Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington made a hard push that nearly landed the slugging third baseman in Boston before an 11th hour intervention brought Turner to L.A., where he became an All-Star.

So how close did Turner come to joining the Red Sox?

“A day away,” he said Monday. “Hours.”

Turner had actually narrowed his choice of minor-league deals to the Red Sox and Twins after being non-tendered by the Mets in December of 2013. But his heart remained in the National League, which made the Dodgers the obvious choice once they entered the bidding.

“I had to make a decision by midnight or the next morning and the Dodgers called that night,” Turner said. “At the time, it was between the Red Sox and the Twins. Obviously Boston was a world class organization with a lot of good young players and a general manager that expressed his interest in really wanting me to be here. There were a lot of good things coming out of it. I was honestly getting excited about it and looking forward to it.”

Just one problem: Turner saw employment in Boston, but he didn’t necessarily see opportunity. Utilityman Brock Holt had just received 72 at-bats for the season, with full-time regulars locked in all over the diamond following a World Series title.

The Dodgers, by contrast . . .

“One of the deciding factors between Boston and L.A., Don Mattingly used his bench players a lot,” Turner said. “You look at Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker and Michael Young all having 300 at-bats the season before as utility players. And then you look at the Boston bench guys having 70 at-bats, 80 at-bats.”

Had the Red Sox signed Turner, Cherington might still be running the team. Turner went on to hit .340 in his Dodgers debut. He has since made an All-Star team and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting twice.

He’s also become one of the most feared postseason hitters in the game, with a career average of .310 and OPS of .941, more than 100 points higher than his regular-season average.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, addressed a massive hole at third base by signing Pablo Sandoval a year later. Let’s just say he wasn’t the answer.

“Going into free agency that year, my main goal was to stay in the National League for the opportunity to be a utility guy and still get to play,” Turner said. “So when the Dodgers came into the picture, that kind of answered the question for me, made it not as difficult a choice, although I was excited and looking forward to possibly being a Red Sox.”