People keep saying that the Cubs’ July 25, 2016 trade of Torres, then a 19-year-old mega-prospect, with three other players to the Yankees for super reliever Aroldis Chapman is an example of what the Dodgers need to start doing in pursuit of an elusive 21st-century World Series title.
Supposedly, Torres is the canary in the Dodgers’ coalmine of caution.
“Their organizational philosophy prevents them from making the kind of the deal the Chicago Cubs did in their championship season in 2016, ending a 108-year drought,” wrote Dylan Hernandez in the Times this weekend, though he’s far from the only one to make such an argument.
Here’s what this theory ignores:
- The Dodgers themselves agreed to trade prospects to the Reds for Chapman 7 1/2 months earlier, only to rightfully call off the trade when domestic violence allegations surfaced surrounding Chapman. So, the core of the argument that the Dodgers weren’t willing to give up players to get a player of Chapman’s caliber is literally false.
- In addition to the late 2015 Chapman catch-and-release, the Dodgers made one of the biggest acqusitions in MLB of 2017 (Yu Darvish) and 2018 (Manny Machado). While those trades didn’t pay off with a World Series title, they prove that the Dodgers will go after the toppiest of top-shelf talent to win. Without the benefit of hindsight, most people in July 2017 considered Darvish the superior target to Justin Verlander, who went the following month to the Astros.
- Chapman blew three saves in the 2016 playoffs and allowed runs or inherited runs to score in five different games, most notably in Game 7 of the World Series (admittedly, after inexplicably being used to close out Game 6 with the Cubs leading, 9-2). As far as fulfulling his role, Chapman failed in Game 7 for the Cubs essentially as much as Darvish did for the Dodgers a year later — and exactly as much as Clayton Kershaw failed last week. Chapman gave up two tying runs in the eighth inning. Some Dodger fans Wednesday night were running over replicas of Kershaw’s jersey with their cars for the exact same result. I wish I were joking.
- Chapman was instrumental in exactly one World Series victory for the Cubs: Game 5. That’s it. See his game log below. Chapman was certainly a net asset in helping the Cubs reach the World Series in 2016, but once there, he was more of a security blanket than difference maker.
- In other words, Chapman’s 2016 World Series was on par with the 2017 World Series of the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen (two saves, one blown save, one loss,), the main difference being that the Cub offense rescued Chicago in 2016 Game 7 in a way that the Dodger offense didn’t rescue Los Angeles in 2017 Game 7.
Flags fly forever, and ultimately, parsing the importance of Chapman to the Cubs’ 2016 title is absolutely beside the point. Few in Chicago would complain if Theo Epstein had traded Wrigley Field itself for a World Series championship. At the same time, Torres is now a two-time All-Star at age 22, a major player in the Yankees’ title drive this year and for several years to come. The Cubs missed the playoffs and are reeling not insubstantially.
The main reason people are talking about the Chapman trade as a success for the Cubs is because of what his teammates accomplished, not him.
Inevitably, I’ll be accused of being an apologist for the Dodger front office, so let me just point out that they’ve obviously made their share of mistakes, not the least of which is trading Yordan Alvarez for Josh Fields in 2016 (though, by the Torres Amendment, we wouldn’t be allowed to complain about this if the Dodgers had won the 2017 title). And in retrospect, even though he went 0-1 with a no decision for the Astros in the 2017 World Series, Verlander ended up being the preferable pick-up compared with Darvish. For that matter, Dodger fans can rue the day that the front office stood by while the Astros scored Gerrit Cole from the Pirates in January 2018, even though Cole was coming off a mediocre season. I’m not here to say Dodger leadership is infallible.
But the idea that the Dodgers need to make an organizational shift in philosophy toward trading prospects for stars doesn’t make sense — the front office has already been doing that. Not every year, but enough years to make the accusation laughable. And the delicate balance that has seen them make trades while keeping players like Walker Buehler and Cody Bellinger in Los Angeles deserves more admiration than admonishment.
The Dodgers had every piece of the puzzle they needed to win in 2017 and more than enough in the next two seasons, but at the most critical moments, their key players let them down. They fell short of the level of performance fans had every reason to expect. This happened because baseball is an incredibly hard sport, never harder than in the World Series, and players are not robots.
Nevertheless, the only reason anyone in Los Angeles is talking about Gleyber Torres this month is because, when it mattered most, the Cubs’ players did their jobs, and the Dodgers’ players didn’t.