Few minor league players will play under more bizarre circumstances during the season’s first two and a half months than shortstop prospect Trea Turner. By the middle of June, Turner will be with the Washington Nationals, the team that acquired him to bolster a weak area of its farm system and to potentially become the long-term replacement of Ian Desmond. Though his major league chances ultimately lie in their hands, Turner is required to begin the year with the team that traded him, the San Diego Padres.
On Tuesday the Padres revealed their plans for Turner, who will work through Spring Training as usual before opening the year with a minor league affiliate, most likely the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm (California League). Under major league draft rules Turner, whom the Nationals acquired along with right-handed pitching prospect Joe Ross in December’s three-team deal with the Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays, cannot be traded until the one-year anniversary of when he signed with the organization. San Diego selected him with the 13th-overall pick in last year’s draft and officially signed him on June 13.
Within days of its completion, this element of the trade became a source of controversy when Turner’s agent, Jeff Berry of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), relayed his criticism to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Among other statements, Berry said in relation to the Padres handling of Turner, “the plan to ‘trust us’ is not enough when it comes to a player’s well-being and career.”
Considering what is at stake for Turner and the two clubs, trust is an imperfect but necessary solution. Other than placing him in Lake Elsinore or with another affiliate, the Padres only option is leave to him at their complex in Arizona for Extended Spring Training. While that would make it easier to monitor Turner’s health, that move would take him out of meaningful game action and cut into significant development time. The Padres could exploit a loophole by simply loaning Turner to the Nationals, but that scenario rarely plays out, and essentially never happens when the player to be named later is reported widely and implicitly stated by both teams.
There is in an inherent risk in allowing Turner to play every day in the Padres’ system, as a freak injury could squander the deal. What is important to remember is that the Padres, aside from the glaringly obvious responsibility to protect their own players, have a lot of reasons to keep him healthy. While Turner is not backed by union protection as a minor leaguer, having Berry and the powerful CAA in his camp is crucial. The practice of a front office alienating any large agency in baseball is ill-advised, but especially one that represents key major league players. According to MLB Trade Rumors’ Agency Database, CAA’s clients include three members of the Padres’ 40-man roster: starting pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielders Carlos Quinten and Wil Myers, the latter of whom was the centerpiece of the Padres’ return in the deal that sent Turner to Washington.
Also at stake is the relationship between two active general managers whose teams are on the upswing. Mike Rizzo has frequently turned to the trade market to keep the Nationals competitive, while A.J. Preller has remade the Padres with a busy offseason. If Preller is to establish himself as a reliable GM, it means assuring that a poor decision does not result in crossing another team, particularly one as prominent as the Nationals.
Considering what must be dealt with, allowing Turner to open the season on a full-season team is the best solution for everyone. He will receive regular playing time and avoid falling behind in his development, while a smooth transition will secure a comfortable relationship between the two teams. His health is crucial, but Turner can use this situation to make a seamless transition to the Nationals and claim his place among their best prospects.