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The Dodgers are contending right now because of the trades they didn't make

The Dodgers could have exchanged their top prospects for anybody their hearts desired, but they played it safe. It looks like a great decision from here.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There is a 20 percent chance that we're living in a computer simulation. Well, that I'm living in a computer simulation. You're just a part of it. And my hope is that at the end of the simulation, it will all be revealed, and the creators will ask me if I want to travel through history.

"We can put you with William Shakespeare as he writes. We can put you there when Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans got in the same room for the first time. When Babe Ruth called his shot. When the first land animal crawled out of the sea," they'll ask.

And I'll say, "I'd like to discover all of the ridiculous baseball trades that were discussed, but never happened."

"We can put you at the painting of the Sistine Chapel, in Apollo 11, with the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. We ..."

I'll hold up my hand. "Please. Just tell me if the Dodgers ever considered a Clayton Kershaw-for-Nick Markakis trade in 2008." And, if I'm lucky, I'll spend the rest of eternity giggling at the stupid baseball trades that never happened.

Which is to say that I'm fascinated with alternate realities and what-ifs, the roads not taken. The Dodgers were curious enough about Miguel Cabrera to consider packaging Kershaw and Matt Kemp when they were prospects. Who said no? Were there arguments in the front office? It's not like it would have been a disaster -- they would have had one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. It just would have been so different.

Considering all that, I'm constantly drawn to what the Dodgers could have done over the last three seasons, the moves they could have made to strengthen themselves for their postseason runs. They had the prospects to get anybody on the market. David Price. Jon Lester. Zack Greinke (the first time). They wouldn't have considered pitching Kershaw on short rest in those fateful postseason games. Things might have been different.

Instead, the Dodgers held their prospects tight, shooing everyone away. They could have had anybody. They made smaller deals and kept their best prospects. For what? For whom? If their window wasn't then, what were they planning for?

This. They were planning for this. Look at the 2016 Dodgers and marvel at the trades they didn't make, because they're sure glad they have all those young players now.

The Dodgers are a game over .500 and in second place as of Thursday, and while it's not like they're a complete mess, they're dealing with disappointing players all over the roster. Yasmani Grandal is ordinary. Adrian Gonzalez is ordinary. Justin Turner has been awful. Yasiel Puig has been even worse. And Howie Kendrick went from one of the surprise steals of the offseason to a $20 million liability in about a month. That's 5/8 of the projected lineup, and all the Dodgers can do is hope they all snap out of it.

The rotation isn't as deep as they were hoping, either. Kershaw is still the best pitcher on the planet, as if he read all of your "Jake Arrieta is the best pitcher on the planet now" articles and mutters the names of the authors, Arya-style, before every strikeout. But after that, even Kenta Maeda is struggling now. After one earned run in his first 25 innings, he's allowed 14 in his last 21 innings. Scott Kazmir recently had his best start of the year, but he's been extremely shaky. Alex Wood isn't being handled like someone in whom the Dodgers have a lot of trust, routinely getting pulled after four, five or six innings.

That's a long laundry list of things that aren't going right for the Dodgers. At this point, you might be wondering how they're even over .500 if about half of their expected contributors have been disappointing. Well, that's the thesis of the article, so I might as well spit it out.

Corey Seager is having one of the better rookie seasons from any shortstop in Dodgers history, looking like the franchise player he was supposed to be.

Joc Pederson shook off his second-half decrepitude and resumed terrorizing NL pitchers.

Trayce Thompson, acquired when the Dodgers shuffled prospects around instead of acquiring a short-term veteran in Todd Frazier, has been outstanding in a small sample.

It's the young players (and Kershaw, of course) who are keeping them afloat this season. If the Dodgers had traded one or several of them for David Price or whatever July fancy passed through their inbox, they would be irrevocably hosed now. But it's not just the current roster that's benefiting. If the Dodgers need that rotation push, which they most likely will, they can call up 19-year-old Julio Urias, who is bending the Pacific Coast League to his will. There hasn't been a teenager like him since Felix Hernandez, except Urias' command is better in Triple-A at the same age. He's going to be like the biggest acquisition of the deadline, except he's here because of some weird reverse non-trade from years ago.

And the most important part, other than enjoying all of the talented young players, is that now the Dodgers can feel a little comfortable dealing from their prospect stash, which is generally regarded to be one of the better farm systems in baseball. Now that people aren't asking for Seager/Urias/Pederson over and over and over again, hoping the Dodgers would snap, maybe productive deals can get done.

That's not all to say that young players did and/or will fix everything that was wrong with the 2016 Dodgers. They'll need Puig or Turner to come around, possibly both. Urias won't fix the rotation alone, so they'll need Maeda to find his April pants, or they'll need Wood or Kazmir to become consistent again. These aren't ridiculous scenarios, not at all, so the Dodgers shouldn't panic. It's not like they're the Phillies, saying, "Well, if we can keep winning with one of the worst lineups in baseball ..." The Dodgers are underachieving, and they know it.

But they have the young players as roster cornerstones. They have young players as reinforcements. They have the young players they can trade for reinforcements. In short, it looks like the Dodgers were smart to bury their prospects in the backyard when they could have cashed them in during their obvious win-now seasons.

I still want to visit the simulations where the Dodgers actually got Price or Lester. I'm still curious what they could have done with a superteam, both in the regular season and postseason. But their prudent, long-term strategy sure makes a lot of sense now. They're just hoping the older players snap out of it for once.