Versatile free agent Taylor built for big stage

November 21st, 2021

We all know about the shortstops on the market this offseason. It is a glamour position that has glamour players like Corey Seager, who won with the Dodgers, and Carlos Correa, who won with the Astros, both very much available. So is Marcus Semien, who was a better player than either one of them last season, even if he was playing second base for the Blue Jays.

But if the object of the game is to win October, you better be taking a long look at Chris Taylor, whose position is baseball player. Or maybe that description should be amended this way:

Winning baseball player.

Taylor knows how to do it in October the way his former teammate, Enrique Hernández, does. The Dodgers wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did in the postseason without Taylor, who won the NL Wild Card game Game against the Cardinals with a walk-off homer in the ninth inning before going on to hit .476 against the Braves in the NLCS. And the Red Sox wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did in the postseason without Hernández, who had 10 hits in Boston’s ALDS victory against the Rays and then 10 more hits against the Astros in the ALCS.

The Red Sox are one of the teams reported to be interested in Taylor now that he’s rejected the Dodgers’ qualifying offer to become a free agent at the age of 31. Boston ought to be interested if they want to win next season. The Dodgers ought to do everything they should to keep Taylor. You know who else ought to be interested in somebody like Taylor? The Yankees should. They need more guys like Taylor and fewer swing-miss guys swinging for the fences.

Former Dodger Andre Ethier was talking about Taylor the other day, and one of the things he said was this:

“[Taylor] is one piece you don’t let walk away.”

You don’t if you want to win.

Taylor can play the infield and he can play the outfield and he isn’t afraid of the biggest October moments, because we’ve seen that from him for years. The Dodgers had three former MVPs on their team this season, in Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw. They don’t get as close to a chance at a 2017 World Series rematch with the Astros without Taylor, one of the most valuable baseball players on the planet who ended up hitting .254 in 2021.

Taylor was an All-Star who played six positions for a team that ended up winning 106 regular-season games. He played some second and third base, shortstop and all three spots in the outfield. After his walk-off homer in the Wild Card Game kept the season alive for the Dodgers, Taylor once again extended the season for Los Angeles when he hit three home runs against the Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS with the Dodgers trailing three games to one.

You know the last Dodger to hit three homers in a postseason game? Hernández did it against the Cubs in 2017. Hernández has also moved all around the field on defense, though he only played at second base, shortstop and center field for the Red Sox last season. But he has played more than 500 innings at four different positions in his career. We still call players like Hernández and Taylor “utility” players, and somehow that makes people diminish their contributions, and how much they matter, especially on good teams. It shouldn’t. With guys like Taylor and Hernández, both of whom tried to carry their team to a World Series last month, who became the most important players their teams had, utility player is a badge of baseball honor. And ought to get you paid.

Eddie Rosario became a star of October for the Braves, everybody knows that. When his team played Taylor’s in the NLCS, Rosario went crazy with 14 hits in six games and three homers with six runs scored. Taylor had 10 hits with three homers in that six-game series, and scored five runs for the Dodgers.

Here is what Taylor said after that Game 5 win, which kept the Dodgers alive:

“Definitely a surreal feeling for me. I never thought I was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game. It just really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Once again Taylor was there when the Dodgers needed him. He’s played two Wild Card games in his Dodger career. He had four hits in eight at-bats in those games. Taylor was the MVP of the 2017 NLCS. He hit .364 in the NLCS in ’18. His lifetime batting average in the postseason (.259) is just two points lower than his regular-season career average.

Now, Taylor is a free agent. Andre Ethier is right. The Dodgers ought to keep him. If they don’t, a contending team like the Red Sox should go after him hard. You know when Chris Taylor becomes a glamour guy in baseball? When the lights go up.