Chris Taylor is getting on my nerves.
The Los Angeles Dodgers budding star irritates me in the way putting a phone to my ear and being forced to listen to a loop of awful canned music while on hold for 22 minutes irritates me.
Taylor has done nothing wrong, because he does everything right. Which is precisely the point: The most surprising player for the team that finished the regular season with the best record in baseball was scouted, drafted and groomed for greatness by the Seattle Mariners, who were unable to benefit from the greatness.
On June 19, 2016, general manager Jerry Dipoto traded Taylor to the Dodgers for starting pitcher Zach Lee. A former first-round draft choice, Lee reported to Tacoma and went 0-9, with a 7.76 ERA, before he was waived.
It was a terrible deal – easily the worst of Dipoto’s two-year career in Seattle – but to be fair, I did not criticize the trade that sent a five-tool talent capable of playing multiple positions for a failed pitching prospect.
Taylor projected as a utility man in the majors, a fill-in who’s called up as an injury replacement, then sent back down when the injured player returns. He earned a 2015 spring training audition with the the Mariners after representing Tacoma in the Triple-A All-Star game the previous summer, only to get plunked with a pitch that fractured his wrist.
Taylor appeared in 86 games over three seasons with the Mariners. He made contact and established himself as a stolen-base threat, but there was no power in the swing, no buzz about the potential.
And now, 16 months after he was part of a transaction relevant only to his closest friends and immediate family, he’s looming as one of the Dodgers’ most important, if not valuable, players.
Taylor’s Game 3 performance against the Cubs – batting leadoff, he hit a triple and a home run while serving as both starting shortstop and late-inning defensive replacement in center field – reflected his breakthrough 2017 season.
Taylor’s 60 extra-base hits included 21 homers and five triples. He drove in 72 runs and stole 17 bases. He played center and left in the outfield, as well as second base, shortstop and third base in the infield.
Taylor is 27, with a contract the Dodgers control through 2022. In other words, he’s prototypical of the athlete Mariners CEO John Stanton referred to last week as an ideal roster fit.
Since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 in 1920, every big-league franchise has come to regret decisions that backfired. The Mariners, it seems to me, are the world leaders in regretful decisions.
Catcher Jason Veritek, center fielder Adam Jones, designated hitter David Ortiz and reliever Brandon Morrow rate as the most egregious examples of Seattle’s ill-fated trades. I’ll give the Mariners a pass on Justin Smoak, who this season blossomed into the All-Star they envisioned when the first baseman was obtained in a blockbuster 2010 deal with the Rangers for starter Cliff Lee.
Over the five years he spent between Seattle and Tacoma, Smoak made nearly 2,000 plate appearances for the Mariners. He hit .226. An unassuming sort comfortable in the key of low, Smoak probably needed a change of scenery to realize his potential. It was realized in Toronto.
The fact the forever-in-a-slump Justin Smoak hit 38 homers this season, with 90 RBI, doesn’t faze me. It had taken forever for him to figure things out at the plate, and he needed to move on.
I’m happy for Smoak.
I’m not happy for Taylor. Kind of a nobody with the Mariners, he has evolved into an extraordinary somebody with the Dodgers.
Speed, power, versatility, the check marks on the boxes scouts fill out are all there.
The Mariners were in on him from the beginning, and then he was gone in a midsummer trade that went unnoticed.
As professor Henry Higgins put it in “My Fair Lady,” while lamenting his estrangement from beloved pupil Eliza Doolittle:
Damn, damn, damn.