Welcome to the latest edition of the Red Sox Beat newsletter. This is your stop for the latest on and off the field, from news to exclusive player interviews and insights brought to you by MLB.com club reporter Ian Browne.
BOSTON -- Justin Turner and his wife, Courtney, are having so much fun in Boston that they haven’t left yet.
This, despite the fact that Justin declined his player option for 2024 last week to become a free agent.
There is no current contract attaching Turner to the Red Sox, but it’s obvious he hasn’t cut the cord yet. In fact, Turner has been going to Fenway Park regularly to work out and get treatment from the training staff.
“We stayed up here. Our lease was through Oct. 31 anyway,” Turner said Friday night at a charity event for the Pedro Martinez Foundation. “We’ve been enjoying it. We had some stuff going on in California, too, but we decided to extend it to November and here we are.”
Turner, with a career-high 96 RBIs, was a perfect fit in Boston on and off the field.
“The city has been really, really fantastic to us. Not only us, but our foundation as well and supporting that, and being given the opportunity to put a Red Sox jersey on and play in Fenway Park and call it home has been something honestly I couldn’t even imagine would happen in my career,” said Turner. “But I’m so glad it did, because it’s truly been one of the best experiences of my life.”
Is Turner hoping there’s a path back to the Red Sox?
“I would love to be back with the Sox. I think the crazy thing is that as great as our experience was, we finished in last place in the AL East. What I’ve heard from all these guys, Pedro included, is how amazing this town is when you’re making a playoff run,” Turner said. “I want to know what it's like to play in a playoff game here for the Red Sox -- not against them.”
In 2018, Turner and his Dodgers faced a juggernaut Boston team in the World Series and came up short.
Now that the Red Sox have a new chief baseball officer in Craig Breslow, decisions are going to start getting made regarding the construction of Boston's 2024 roster.
“I sat down in the clubhouse with [Breslow] maybe the day after he was hired. We had about an hour conversation and got into certain things,” said Turner. “It’s very new for him. It was very new for him at the time. He’s still trying to get to know everyone in the organization and it was very casual. It wasn't very much business.”
The one possible impediment to Turner being back with the Red Sox is that he could be viewed as a bit of a square peg in a round hole in this sense: The club very much wants to improve defensively from last year.
With Turner serving as the primary DH like he did last year, that might be a challenge for the Sox to get better on defense. In other words, if manager Alex Cora can have more opportunities to put Masataka Yoshida, Triston Casas and Rafael Devers at DH, it could lead to the team playing cleaner overall defense.
Breslow noted that, in a perfect world, the DH position would be one that Cora has some flexibility with.
Keep in mind that Turner -- who can play first, third and even a little second base -- likely could have played more defense last year if not for the scary beaning he endured in Spring Training and then the deep bone bruise he suffered on his right foot on July 31.
As for Breslow, he hasn’t ruled anything out with Turner.
“What I feel really confident speaking to is the impact that he had on the team despite the fact that I wasn't there,” said Breslow. “It was really clear, just based on the way people spoke about him, just how much he meant to the clubhouse, how much he meant to the organization, how much he meant to the city. You know, obviously, we have to figure out if he fits, how he fits, but from kind of my perspective, I just have nothing but effusive praise for Justin as a person.”
Casas, one of three finalists for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, will learn his fate on Monday night when the winner is announced on MLB Network.
While Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson is the favorite in a finalist group that also includes Cleveland righty Tanner Bibee, Casas made a strong case with his monster second half.
When Casas was hitting .128 on May 1, it was hard to believe what a strong case he would build for this award. But his in-season turnaround was something to behold.
From June 1 until his season ended on Sept. 14 due to a nagging right shoulder injury, Casas was as big a force as the Red Sox had in their lineup, putting together a slash line of .299/.397/.556 with 18 homers. The left-handed hitter had an eye-popping 1.034 OPS after the All-Star break.
Among qualified AL rookies with at least 400 at-bats, Casas finished first in OPS (.857), slugging percentage (.490) and on-base percentage (.367) while finishing second in homers (24), second in walks (70) and fourth in RBIs (65).
Casas stood out not just among rookies, but among his more seasoned teammates, leading the club in walks, OBP and OPS while finishing second to Devers in homers.
Not only that, but Casas became the first qualified rookie for the Red Sox to lead the team in OPS since Fred Lynn in 1975. His OPS was the highest for a qualified Sox rookie since Nomar Garciaparra (.876) in 1997. Lynn and Garciaparra both won the Rookie of the Year in those seasons.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Casas as a rookie was his advanced batting eye. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Casas is only the fourth Boston rookie to lead the club in walks. That small club includes Joe Foy (1966), Ted Williams (1939) and Marv Olson (1932).
Casas also has the advanced stats to back his case, as he ranked in MLB’s 75th percentile or higher in xwOBA (92nd, .371), walk rate (93rd, 13.9), xSLG (89th, .500), barrel rate (86th, 13.1), chase rate (86th, 22.1), hard-hit rate (80th, 46.6) and average exit velocity (77th, 91.1).
VARITEK GRATEFUL FOR INTERVIEW WITH GIANTS
In the first few years after Jason Varitek retired, there was much speculation he would become a manager. Varitek interviewed with the Mariners in 2015, but things had been quiet on that front since then. That changed recently when he got an interview for the opening with the Giants, which went to the seasoned Bob Melvin.
“It was short,” Varitek said of the process. “But it was good. It was a good conversation with [Giants president of baseball operations] Farhan [Zaidi].”
Over the last decade, Varitek has worked his way up the ranks for the Red Sox from special assistant to the general manager to catching instructor to his current position of game planning coordinator.
Boston’s former captain is certainly open to being a manager at some point. In typical Varitek fashion, he won’t let it distract him from his current job.
“I understand that’s the future of where this goes is to be able to have right fits and right opportunities to lead and manage a team,” Varitek said. “Currently, it’s not necessarily about that. It’s about going out there and doing the best job I can to ride with our pitchers and catchers and help them be the best they can be. But if those opportunities fit right, you have to really look hard at them.”
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