At the time the Mets released him, Turner was deep in the process of restructuring his swing path and approach at the plate so he could pull the ball more and hit it in the air more frequently. Turner had started tinkering with his swing at the end of that 2013 season, batting .357 in September along with his only two home runs that year, and he then spent five days a week in the batting cage from October through November before Alderson’s call.
But it was the Dodgers, not the Mets, who would become the beneficiaries of those alterations, a turn of events that looks worse for the Mets as each year goes by.
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It was Los Angeles who signed Turner right before spring training in 2014 — he made all of $1 million that season — and he has perhaps been their most productive hitter ever since, compiling a slash line of .306/.380/.499 with 61 home runs and 100 doubles through Saturday’s game against the Mets. He has played in the postseason each year since joining the Dodgers, with a formidable .357 average.
Turner, who is now 32 and in the first season of a four-year, $64 million deal, also earned his first All-Star Game appearance last month and seems worthy of votes for the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. He was also leading the National League with a .347 batting average while hitting third for a team on pace to win well over 100 games.
And the player behind him in the N.L. batting race is none other than Daniel Murphy, who was batting .332 through Saturday’s games. It was Murphy, of course, whom the Mets let walk after the 2015 season even though he had propelled them to the World Series with a record-setting barrage of home runs.
In some alternate universe, perhaps Murphy would still be playing second base for the Mets, with Turner, with his long red hair and beard, at third and the Mets pounding other teams into submission. But that never happened.
And while Murphy was let go in part for financial reasons — he ended up getting a three-year, $37.5 million contract from the Washington Nationals — the Mets never publicly elaborated what drove them to release Turner.
At the time, Alderson said no one should assume it was about money, and Turner, after all, was not making a whole lot. But there were rumors that the Mets thought Turner did not hustle enough, a notion that baffled and angered him. When asked on Friday about Turner, Alderson said he preferred not to discuss former players, but he did text, “I am very happy for his success.”
In any case, the deflating 2013 phone call from Alderson was not the first time that Turner felt overlooked and underappreciated by the Mets. An earlier moment actually involved a call that never came his way.
In that instance, in 2010, Turner capped a strong minor league season for the Mets with an outlandish final day. Playing for Class AAA Buffalo, he hit his only triple of the year in the eighth inning as part of a 6-for-6 performance. It was the first time a Buffalo Bison had registered six hits in a game since 1936.
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Turner said that game held a “ton of significance” for him to this day because when it then came time for the annual September promotions to the Mets, he never got he call he was hoping for. He had been waived by the Baltimore Orioles earlier that summer and then scooped up by the Mets, whose general manager back then was Omar Minaya.
And the Mets had then sent him to Buffalo, where all he did was hit .333 with 11 home runs and 22 doubles in 78 games — and go 6 for 6.
“I felt bad about that,” said Minaya, when asked why Turner did not receive a promotion to the Mets at that point. “The guy went 6 for 6 on the last day, but the decision had already been made. I loved Justin, but we just had too many guys already.”
Turner remembers feeling devastated.
“That is something that will always stick with me for the rest of my life,” he said. Still, he also wonders if every disappointment that came before he signed with the Dodgers essentially helped him reach his current level of success.
“I might be out of the game now,” he said. “To go through what I went through here in New York made me a better player, a better person and a better leader in the clubhouse.”
Although his home-run pace this season is down from a career-high 27 last year, Turner’s on-base percentage was .442 through Saturday and he had only 35 strikeouts. It is why Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts delights in batting Turner third for his juggernaut.
“He’s a grinder and he’s blue collar,” Roberts said. “He’s the glue of our ball club. For me, there is a certain mentality and a focus you have to have each day, and that is what Justin has. When you put him alongside a Chase Utley and a Clayton Kershaw, you’ve got a very stable core.”
The Mets, meanwhile, are simply left with regrets.