CLEARWATER, Fla. — Shortly before 8:30 a.m. on yet another indistinguishable Florida spring training morning, Trea Turner walked into the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse in full pinstriped uniform, shiny new batting helmet in hand.
Turner doesn’t look like the new guy in Phillies camp. In fact, he looks like he always belonged there, in the locker next to Bryce Harper’s, surrounded by Adidas shoe boxes filled with Phillies red. He isn’t one to invite attention to himself, never the loudest guy in any baseball room. But when he is comfortable, he is a steady source of pleasant snark and sarcasm from which no teammates or coaches are immune.
So when another former teammate, Kyle Schwarber, ambled to his locker a few minutes later, Turner feigned the role of tattling little brother.
“Why isn’t Kyle playing!?” he yelled, though no one who writes the lineup was anywhere in ear shot. Schwarber was getting a day off because he was the unlucky veteran sent on the hours-long trip to Fort Myers a day earlier. All the other Phillies regulars were in the lineup. Someone had to make Schwarber feel guilty. Turner knew Schwarber would get the joke.
“When we signed him, I go: ‘This guy’s going to fit in right away.’ There’s not really going to be a transition time for him,” Schwarber said. “Personality-wise and the way we all talk, that’s how he is. It’s been a seamless transition.”
From the moment Turner became a free agent after last season, the Phillies seemed like an obvious landing spot. They were positioned to win, which Turner has done at every stop in his career. They seemed eager to add another superstar, which Turner has become. They had room for him at shortstop, the position he loves, though some teams have asked him to play elsewhere. Philadelphia trains in Florida, where Turner’s family lives, instead of Arizona. And they had all those old Washington Nationals friends, even his former hitting coach, Kevin Long.
“Looking back it looks like it was super obvious, like such a fit and all that,” Turner said. “But going through it, I don’t know if that’s fair to say. Free agency is a lot different than people think it is, including myself. I don’t think you know who’s going to be interested in you, who will have the money, all those factors.”
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Turner said he normally spends his winters unplugged, not worried about things happening in the baseball world. But this offseason, as he sorted through free agency, he was taking as many as five or six calls from his agent a day. Each call brought new wrinkles, each one left him thinking a different fate was more probable than the others.
Former teammates, on the other hand, largely left him alone. Turner said he talked to Harper and asked him questions about the Phillies. He talked to Long. Schwarber said he didn’t want to push too hard, but when he heard Phillies brass were going to meet with Turner, he texted him.
“I just texted him, ‘Hey, hope the visit went well. Good luck!’ ” Schwarber said. “You want to pitch him, but you don’t want to pressure him. Ultimately got to be what’s best for them and their family. I’m glad it’s here.”
Turner is accustomed to being surrounded by stars. He played with Harper and Max Scherzer and others in Washington. He played with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman and Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles. He has never had to shoulder all the blame nor answer all the questions, though he has never shied away from doing so. He will not have to do so here, either.
And while most $300 million deals come with the expectation that the player receiving them will change the trajectory of the franchise, Turner slid into a clubhouse that conjured some of the most pleasant, endearing and magical vibes in recent baseball history on their way to the National League pennant last year. He does not need to reshape clubhouse culture. He just needs to help maintain it.
But Turner said he did not prioritize that kind of role as he evaluated potential landing spots. While he was vague about other possible destinations, he did say that at least one other suitor would have needed him to lead a less experienced group — to be the guy. He felt he could do it. He was curious to try.
“This offseason, I had to think about that. I think your job changes based on what team you’re on. If I went to one organization, I would have to be more of a leader,” Turner said. “If that happened, I thought that challenge would be pretty cool — challenge myself, grow as a person. I felt like I was capable of doing that. That didn’t scare me.”
But with the Phillies, Turner said, all he had to do was fit in, to slide into a lineup that already includes the most productive offensive catcher of the past five years in J.T. Realmuto, the electric power of 2022 National League home run king in Schwarber, and eventually — when his elbow heals — Harper.
All he needs to do is play shortstop for a team that already has two ace-level starters in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, a team with a 19-year-old phenom, Andrew Painter, on the verge of breaking into the rotation. He does not have to be Mr. Philadelphia Phillie, because Rhys Hoskins has that locked down. He simply needs to be Trea Turner, the player who has accumulated more Wins Above Replacement over the past three seasons than any shortstop in baseball, according to FanGraphs. He will be a Phillie until he is 40. And he says that in all those years of playing at Citizens Bank Park, all those trips up Interstate 95 with the Nationals, he never saw it coming.
“I would care to guess that the overwhelming majority of people would want to stay with the club they got brought up with. That’s why I’m kind of shocked when extensions don’t happen,” Turner said. “When I was in the Padres organization, I thought I would be with the Padres the whole time. When I was with the Nationals, I thought I would be with the Nats for a long time. We players are kind of dumb like that, you’re just thinking ‘I like it here. I’m sure I’ll be here forever.’ ”
For Turner, the biggest adjustment might be getting used to knowing, for sure, that he will be here forever. He will be in the lineup with Harper until both are nearing the ends of the careers they started in Washington. He will be playing in Philadelphia, wearing no. 7, a star on a team that will probably carry championship expectations for years to come — a part of a new Phillies golden era, just like the one he was a part of in D.C.
“It’s like, okay, this is what it is now,” Turner said. “I don’t know what 11 years from now is going to look like, but we’ll see how it turns out.”