WASHINGTON — When the Nationals traded Trea Turner last summer, he didn’t see it coming.
The shortstop understood Washington’s position and so did the rest of the clubhouse. The Nationals were several games under .500 and sitting in fourth place in the NL East. Any player set to hit free agency the upcoming offseason was on the block.
Turner, however, had two years left on his rookie deal. Of the eight players the Nationals traded in their fire sale, he was the only one with multiple years of control remaining. So when he found out he might be moved, it came as a bit of a shock.
“It caught me a little off guard,” Turner said in a press conference from the visitor’s dugout at Nationals Park on Monday. “A lot of guys thought they were gonna be traded. Max [Scherzer] had to waive his no-trade clause and some of the relievers and this and that, people on one year-deals. But I didn’t necessarily know I was gonna be traded until the week leading up to it or the week of it so I think it just caught me a little off guard.”
Washington shipped Turner and Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers together in exchange for four prospects including catcher Keibert Ruiz and pitcher Josiah Gray. While Scherzer signed with the New York Mets in free agency, Turner is still playing for Los Angeles as he prepares to hit the open market himself for the first time this winter.
Los Angeles has yet to make a formal extension offer to Turner, according to The Athletic. He’s back to playing shortstop, moving over from second base after mainstay Corey Seager inked a 10-year, $325 million deal in December. Barring a surprise extension, he’ll hit free agency at 29 years old as one of the top players available.
When asked if he’s thought about returning to D.C. next year and beyond, Turner said last season’s trade deadline taught him to stop trying to have expectations for the future.
“I gave all that up last year, out the window,” Turner said. “After that trade, I don’t expect nothing. I don’t have any expectations. I’m controlling what I can control. Try to focus on what I can do and those decisions will be made later. Who knows what happens but not me, I have no idea.”
If he were to come back to the District next season, he would be joining a very different club. Not only did the Nationals enter their weekend series against the Dodgers with a 14-28 record very uncharacteristic from Turner’s time in Washington, they also did so with only six players from their World Series-winning team still on the active roster.
“When we traded all those guys, we made an organizational decision that we were going to get super young, and we were going to transition to something different,” manager Davey Martinez said. “It’s part of the game. A lot of teams do it. And we got some good players in return. It’s always tough initially when it happens, because I build relationships with these guys, and these guys are part of something huge that happened here.
“But it was time to get these newer players, and it was a process when you get them to teach them how to play the game the right way in the major leagues. These guys are learning every day. [Ruiz and Gray are] both playing very well.”
The Nationals do indeed have a much younger core than they did when the 2021 season began. Most critical to that core is Juan Soto, a player Turner said, “If there’s one guy I could play with again for sure it would be him.” With the team facing a potential ownership change and extension talks for Soto ongoing, it’s unclear whether the Nationals would be interested in bringing Turner back.
For now, he’s an opponent playing for a first-place Dodgers team attempting to make it back to the World Series for the fourth time in six years.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” Turner said. “I try to keep up with Juan and Patrick [Corbin] and the guys and see what they’re doing, JB [Josh Bell], how they’re playing and whatnot and you look at the box score and you see so many different names that I never necessarily played with.
“A lot has changed but that’s what happens in the business of baseball. There’s turnover and there’s guys trying to prove themselves and earn their spot and that’s what’s going on over there but it’s good to see the guys I played with.”