The last time Justin Turner played against the Dodgers, Don Mattingly was the Los Angeles manager, Chris Capuano was the starting pitcher and Turner was just another nondescript name in the New York Mets’ 2013 lineup.
A decade later, circumstances have changed.
On Friday, in a night of reunions at Fenway Park, Turner’s presence in the Boston Red Sox lineup was the top storyline.
For the first time since leaving the Dodgers in free agency this past offseason, the infielder squared off against the club with whom he spent the past nine years.
And eight months removed from his awkward exit, Turner’s emotions toward the team still seemed to be complicated.
“What’s done is done,” Turner said, standing in front of his new locker in Fenway Park’s home clubhouse. “There’s nothing that can change that. I’m in this city, wearing this uniform now. And my job is to worry about what’s in this clubhouse, and how to win baseball games over here.”
Turner had long hoped to avoid a scene like Friday’s.
The Los Angeles native became a fan favorite and franchise icon with the Dodgers, going from an unheralded reclamation project who’d been cast off by the Mets to a two-time All-Star, three-time pennant winner and veteran leader on the club’s 2020 World Series-winning squad.
Though the Dodgers declined his club option in the offseason, Turner still wanted to remain in L.A., hoping he could finish his career in a Dodgers uniform.
But as the winter dragged on and negotiations between the sides stalled, the idea of Turner playing elsewhere slowly became a reality.
On Dec. 17, Turner’s fate was all but sealed when the Dodgers effectively replaced him by signing former Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez to a one-year, $10-million contract. The next day, the split became official when Turner took a two-year, $21.7-million deal in Boston.
“All things considered, absolutely,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Friday when asked if he was surprised Turner wasn’t still with the team. “I don’t think that anyone saw it ending that way, but that’s the way it played out. And I’m happy we got J.D. But [it was] certainly sad to lose Justin.”
The situation left Turner frustrated as well. In January, he sidestepped questions about his free agency.
“I don’t think it does anyone any good to go back and speculate as to what happened,” he said. “I don’t want anything to blow back or taint the last nine years that I had and everything we accomplished.”
In May, he was asked why he and the Dodgers couldn’t come to an agreement.
“No idea,” he responded, adding: “I did not see myself ever playing for another organization.”
He wasn’t ready to completely open up Friday, either.
Did he know his negotiations with the Dodgers would play out like they did?
“No,” Turner said. “I’ll just kind of leave it at that.”
Did he think the process was complicated by the Dodgers’ luxury tax concerns (something he told AM 570 was a factor early in his free agency)?
“Well, looking back on it now, I don’t think they’re anywhere close to the tax line,” Turner said, with the Dodgers’ $267-million payroll blowing well beyond the $233-million threshold. “It just seems like it was part of the plan. I don’t know.”
Turner did share fond memories of his time in Los Angeles.
“It was incredible, obviously,” he said. “I think there was no doubt that was a turning point in my career. It’s where things took off for me.”
He hasn’t severed all L.A. ties, either. For example, Turner and his wife, Kourtney, scheduled their annual “Turner Trot” charity run for this weekend because the Dodgers would be in Boston.
“We thought it made the most sense, to be able to have the most impact, to do it this weekend when a lot of people from L.A. will come out,” he said.
As far as this weekend is concerned, though, Turner downplayed the significance of his reunion series.
“I’m going to enjoy it, it’s going to be fun,” he said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel when I go back to L.A. But here, it’s playing another game at Fenway and I just happen to know a bunch of guys over there.”
The only caveat?
“Any time you play against your old team, you want to do good against them,” he said. “And show them that you think they made a mistake.”