The Dodgers Trading Yordan Àlvarez Looks More Like an All-Time Franchise Disaster With Every Passing Day
L.A. dealt the then-18 year old Cuban slugger for a middle reliever back in 2016. It has not worked out well.
If you have watched much playoff baseball this year, you will no doubt have noticed that most of the hitters have been awful. Playoff pitching has always been tough to hit, but with teams employing multiple pitchers out of their bullpens who can throw triple-digits with movement, and hitters encouraged to swing out of their asses at every pitch in service of the launch-angle revolution, the number of strikeouts per game has made the sport nearly unwatchable.
The Yankees had 27 outs to work with yesterday, as is standard in a nine-inning game. They struck out 17 times.
MLB knows it needs to fix what front office nerds have broken, which is why they are banning the shift and instituting a pitch clock next season. But figuring out the strikeout problem is probably going to take years.
The Astros (unsurprisingly!) won yesterday because they fanned only twice:
But the Astros are undefeated so far in this postseason for one reason and one reason only: Yordan Àlvarez is on their team.
When Houston trailed 7-5 heading into the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ALDS vs. Seattle, it was Àlvarez who hit the three-run walk-off homer off Robbie Ray to stomp on Seattle’s hearts.
When I texted a rival team executive who scouts opposing hitters for a living this morning that I was writing about Àlvarez, he responded within three seconds. “He’s the best hitter I’ve ever advanced,” the executive wrote. “He hits every pitch type. RHP or LHP. He used to have a hole vs. fastballs up but not anymore. Robbie Ray came in with the game on the line and threw him two fastballs. That just shows you how well [Àlvarez] stays on LHP sliders.”
When Houston trailed the Mariners 2-1 in the bottom of the 6th inning of Game 2 of that series, it was Àlvarez, again, who homered to give the Astros a lead they would not relinquish.
With the score tied 1-1 in the 5th inning in Game 1 of the ALCS yesterday, the Yankees intentionally walked Àlvarez with a runner on second because they understand that besides maybe Mike Trout (who is enjoying another October without baseball), Àlvarez is the best hitter in the world right now. (Pitching around Àlvarez worked, though the Astros would eventually go on to win the game 4-2, anyway.)
In addition to what the rival exec told me about Àlvarez’s ability to hit every pitch, here’s ESPN’s Jeff Passan on what makes Àlvarez so special:
Dodger fans don’t understand, either.
After defecting from Cuba in the summer of 2016, Àlvarez landed in Haiti, where he established residency, and met future Astro teammate Yuli Gurriel and his brother, Lourdes. The Astros had their eyes on the former Gurriel, and signed him to a five-year deal worth $47.5 million. The scout who signed Gurriel also pitched Àlvarez to Houston’s then general manager, Jeff Luhnow. But Luhnow begged off on signging Àlvarez because the Astros had already been hit with penalties for going over their international bonus pool limit to land Gurriel.
And so the Dodgers stepped in and inked Àlvarez to a $2 million contract 12 days before the slugger’s 19th birthday.
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When the Dodgers signed Àlvarez, the club was experiencing mixed results from players out of Cuba. Yasiel Puig had been a sensation when he debuted in the summer of 2013, and had emerged as a star, albeit a complete nightmare for the organization in the clubhouse and off the field, until he departed in 2019.
The club then gave another Cuban defector, Alex Guerrero, $28 million in 2014. He appeared in 117 games over two seasons, hit 11 total home runs, and was never heard from again.
Then there was the Hector Olivera disaster. L.A. awarded the Cuban second baseman a six-year deal worth $62.5 million in March 2015. He played in 30 total MLB games and hit 2 home runs, and is best remembered for being arrested for domestic violence, sentenced to 90 days in prison, and being suspended by MLB for half a season. The Dodgers had traded him to the Braves by the time of his arrest, so they didn’t have to wear that public relations debacle. But according to the Associated Press, because L.A. gave Olivera a $28 million signing bonus, his career earnings wound up amounting to $60,707,650, despite his 82-game suspension. The Dodgers paid the bulk of that money, even though he never took a major league at-bat for the team.
I mention these disastrous Cuban signings because Dodgers’ president of baseball operations Andrew Freidman doesn’t usually make mistakes when trading away prospects. In his tenure with the Dodgers, he has dealt highly touted minor league players for superstars Yu Darvish, Mookie Betts, Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, among others. And so far, none of those prospects have turned into solid every-day players, let alone stars. (The jury is still out on some of these youngsters, especially O’Neill Cruz).
But in the summer of 2016, Friedman was searching for relief pitching to shore up his bullpen for a deep playoff run. He called the Astros to inquire about Josh Fields, who at that point had a 6.89 ERA for the Astros. But his expected ERA or FIP of 2.83 suggested Fields had been unlucky. According to Friedman, the Astros asked for several other players before they brought up Yordan Alvarez.
They have watched from afar as Alvarez has blossomed into a 6-foot-5, 225-pound force. Fields was cut by the Dodgers this spring after 2 1/2 seasons.
“Looking back on it now,” Friedman said recently with a rueful smile earlier, “we obviously wish we would have said yes to other names they asked for before him. It’s pretty special watching what he’s doing in the batter’s box.”
Alvarez debuted in June and hit seven home runs in his first 16 games. He doubled Friday against the Angels and entered Saturday’s game with a 1.116 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Fields became a useful contributor for the Dodgers during the regular season, but was kept far from high-leverage moments in October. He had a 5.40 ERA in eight postseason appearances. He surrendered two home runs in Game 2 of the 2017 World Series against Houston.
“We actually won that trade twice,” one former Astros official said.
Josh Fields retired after the 2018 season. Àlvarez won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2019. After missing all but two games of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he rebounded in 2021 with a vengeance, and was named the MVP of the American League Championship Series by going 12-for-23 (.522 BA/1.408 OPS) against Boston.
The most frustrating part of all this is that Friedman traded Àlvarez away to the Astros before he ever took a minor league at-bat for the Dodgers.
Of course, being a general manager of a baseball team is really hard. If you’re going to be as aggressive as Friedman is, you’re going to make a bad trade from time to time. Losing a generational talent like Àlvarez would be easier to swallow if he had been dealt for, say, Betts or Scherzer or Trea Turner.
The Dodgers have so much money and such a strong player development system that they are better positioned to paper-over mistakes like trading away good players for peanuts (no offense to Josh Fields or his family, but we are potentially talking about the Cuban Barry Bonds, here).
The Dodgers haven’t taken much heat for the Àlvarez debacle because they won a title in 2020 and they haven’t much looked like they needed him. But with a bitter first-round playoff exit largely attributed to a lack of offensive thump when it mattered most, boy, it must sting Dodger execs and their fans to watch Àlvarez rake his way through October.