Red Sox, Mets join list of teams linked to Lackey

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Not surprisingly, various reports following the general manager meetings in Chicago earlier this week note that the Mets and Red Sox were among teams to have talks with John Lackey’s agent.
Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald describes the Red Sox as “still in the fact-gathering stage” while David Lennon of New York Newsday suggests that the Mets are “testing waters.” Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reported previously that the Brewers met with Lackey’s agent.
Toss in the Angels’ interest in re-signing Lackey, the Yankees’ presumed interest in adding him to their rotation, plus the various other interested teams not yet heavily linked to him and … well, there’s a reason why he’s the consensus No. 1 free agent pitcher available. In writing last month about Lackey’s upcoming free agency I noted that he’s typically been one of the 10-15 best starters in the American League each season, making him a mid-level No. 1 starter.
Back then I wondered whether or not he’d top the five-year, $82.5 million deal that A.J. Burnett received from the Yankees last offseason. If the usual big spenders like the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, and Mets are truly all in the mix that seems like a lock at this point. Lackey is a good, solid top-of-the-rotation starter, but it also looks like he stands to benefit more than anyone from this offseason’s weak crop of free agents. Can a 31-year-old pitcher with 102 career wins, a lifetime 3.81 ERA, and just one All-Star appearance get $100 million on the open market? It’s starting to look that way.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.