For the third time in the last four seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers are National League champions. They erased a 3-1 series deficit and defeated the Braves in the National League Championship Series. The Dodgers and will now face the Rays in the World Series. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will take on his former team.
Like every team, the Dodgers were assembled through all sorts of different methods. No team is built exclusively through the draft, or trades, or free agency. It’s not possible. Successful teams acquire talent through every available avenue. Here is how the Dodgers acquired their 28-man postseason active roster:
- Draft: 10
- Trades: 7
- MLB free agency: 7
- International free agency: 4
The Dodgers have leaned heavily on their farm system. In fact, they have some of the best late-round draft gems in the game on their roster. They’ve also done well in trades and with smaller free agent signings. Los Angeles had the second-highest prorated payroll at $107.9 million this year. The World Series is truly a David vs. Goliath matchup.
Let’s take a deeper look at how the Dodgers built the roster that carried them to the 2020 World Series.
In a perfect world teams would draft and develop their entire 26-man roster (or 28-man roster this year) and never spend money on free agents or give up players in trades. That world does not exist. Not even close. The draft remains the best (and most cost effective) way to acquire talent and the Dodgers have several impact draft picks on their roster.
In the late rounds of the draft, teams look for a single standout skill or a physical characteristic they believe can lead to long-term success. Matt Beaty had a successful four-year run at Belmont, and the Dodgers targeted him because he knew the strike zone and could get the barrel on the ball consistently, and also because they thought they could help him elevate the ball more often to tap into his power. That’s exactly what happened. Beaty broke out in Double-A in 2017 and hasn’t stopped hitting since. As far as unheralded 12th round picks go, this is as good as it gets.
Cody Bellinger, the reigning NL MVP, was not a high draft pick. He was a skinny Arizona high schooler with questions about his long-term power potential, if you can believe that, but his incredible athleticism and baseball bloodlines — Cody’s father Clay played four years in MLB and went to the World Series all four years — made him a prospect. The Dodgers grabbed him in the fourth round, paid him an above-slot bonus, and watched as that skinny high schooler matured and became one of the game’s premier power hitters and all-around players.
Vanderbilt is the premier player development program in the country and they had three first round picks on their roster in 2015: Dansby Swanson (No. 1 to Diamondbacks), Carson Fulmer (No. 8 to White Sox), and Walker Buehler (No. 24 to Dodgers). Buehler was a projected top 10-15 pick who slipped to the Dodgers because there were concerns about his elbow, and, sure enough, he had Tommy John surgery almost immediately after being drafted. When he returned in 2016, he was throwing harder than ever and he had improved the quality of his secondary pitches. Buehler is now one of the best and most impressive starters in the game.
A two-way star at St. Mary’s, the Dodgers thought Tony Gonsolin had a chance to break out as a pitcher if he gave up hitting, and that’s exactly what happened. His fastball jumped into the mid-90s once he focused on pitching full-time and the team helped him improve his secondary offerings. Gonsolin is still relatively inexperienced on the mound despite being 26, but he has a fresh and live arm, and Los Angeles deserves a ton of credit for identifying him as a guy with untapped potential in college.
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation and he was the top high school prospect in his draft class. Six players were selected before Kershaw. Here’s the top of the 2006 draft:
- Royals: RHP Luke Hochevar, no school (independent league)
- Rockies: RHP Greg Reynolds, Stanford
- (Devil) Rays: 3B Evan Longoria, Long Beach State
- Pirates: RHP Brad Lincoln, Houston
- Mariners: RHP Brandon Morrow, UC Berkeley
- Tigers: LHP Andrew Miller, North Carolina
To be fair, no one really expected Kershaw to develop into this, but he was obviously an excellent pitching prospect with a chance to be an ace at the time of the draft. He developed better than anyone could have reasonably expected and is now a three-time Cy Young winner and a one-time MVP who is on his way to the Hall of Fame. All Kershaw needs to complete his resume is a World Series ring.
At the time of the draft, Dustin May was a classic projectable Texas high schooler, with long limps and a big arm that delivered inconsistent yet promising results. May matured physically in pro ball and his fastball jumped into the upper-90s, and the Dodgers have helped him develop a wide array of quality secondary pitches. There are still consistency issues on occasion, but that’s to be expected with any 23-year-old. May possesses upside on par with any young pitcher in the game.
Once upon a time Joc Pederson was a two-sport star at his Northern California high school, and it wasn’t until he quit football and focused exclusively on baseball that he broke out as a prospect. The Dodgers loved his athleticism and competitiveness, so they paid him a well-above-slot bonus to buy him away from his commitment to Southern California. Pederson never did figure out how to hit lefties — an argument can be made the Dodgers never gave him a chance to figure out lefties — but he is arguably the best platoon outfielder in the game and high-end complementary player who is an occasional centerpiece.
Edwin Rios exploded onto the prospect map his junior year at Florida International — he finished second in the nation with 18 home runs — yet he fell to the sixth round because of swing and miss concerns, and questions about his long-term defensive home. He’s continued to hit these last few seasons, including slugging 35 home runs between Triple-A and MLB in 2019, and he’s settled in as a competent defender on the infield concerns. Rios is good enough to start for many teams. On the Dodgers, he has to settle for being a bench bat and platoon option.
Like Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager was a gift left to the Andrew Friedman regime by the Ned Colletti regime. Seager was a top notch prospect out of his North Carolina high school thanks to his innate bat-to-ball skills and baseball bloodlines — his brother Kyle Seager plays third base for the Mariners and at one point there was a third Seager brother, Justin, in the minor leagues — and he’s been able to stick at shortstop despite being literally the largest full-time shortstop in baseball history (by height and weight). Tommy John surgery two years ago was a bump in the road, but Seager has returned as good as ever, .
Truth be told, Will Smith benefited from his college teammates at Louisville. Scouts made frequent trips in to see future high round draft picks like Corey Ray (No. 5 overall in 2016), Kyle Funkhouser (No. 35 overall in 2015), and Nick Solak (No. 62 overall in 2016), and Smith grew on everyone with increased exposure. His athleticism, ability to handle a quality pitching staff, and offensive potential convinced the Dodgers to grab him in the supplemental first round. It was the draft pick they received as compensation when Zack Greinke signed with the D’Backs as a free agent. Smith has developed into a tremendous all-around catcher and one of the more impressive young hitters in the game. He is a true cornerstone player behind the plate.
Few teams are as consistently successful on the trade market as the Dodgers. They aren’t batting 1.000 — trading Yordan Alvarez for Josh Fields before Alvarez even played a professional game in the minors stings — but they consistently do well. Several significant trades have shaped their postseason roster and propelled them to the World Series.
An unheralded ninth round pick in 2011, Austin Barnes was always a stathead favorite in the minors because of his high contact rates, his on-base ability, and the athleticism and baseball acumen that allowed him to catch and play the middle infield. The former Marlins draft pick landed with the Dodgers in the Dee Strange-Gordon trade. Gordon, Dan Haren, and Mel Rojas Jr. went to Miami for Barnes, Andrew Heaney, Enrique Hernandez, and Chris Hatcher (Heaney was immediately flipped to the Angels for Howie Kendrick). Barnes has since become a steady backup catcher who has started for stretches of time.
It is insane to me — truly insane — that the Red Sox traded away Mookie Betts. Multiple smart people in their front office sat down, talked this out, and decided they were better off without him. That’s a real thing that happened. Boston’s loss is the Dodgers’ gain. After some back and forth, the trade was consummated just prior to spring training. Betts and David Price joined Los Angeles and Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong went to the Red Sox. Boston also agreed to pay half the money remaining on Price’s contract. Betts had another monster season in 2020, one that might win him his second MVP, and the Dodgers recently locked him up to a 12-year contract. Mookie was all over the place in the NLCS. It was a defensive clinic in right field.
The Dodgers are dangerous because they can spend $300 million when a Mookie Betts becomes available, and also pick your pocket with an undervalued player. Dylan Floro was one of those undervalued players. The ground ball specialist has found a niche in middle relief after coming over from the Reds in a minor trade. The Dodgers received Floro, Zach Neal, and international bonus money for minor leaguers James Marinan and Aneurys Zabala, neither of whom has made it out of Single-A ball.
Brusdar Graterol is a Dodger because the Red Sox didn’t like his medicals. He was supposed to go to Boston in the Mookie Betts three-team trade with the Twins, but the deal was revised, and Los Angeles acquired him in an separate trade with Minnesota. They sent Kenta Maeda, prospect Jair Camargo, and cash to the Twins for Graterol and Luke Raley. Graterol emerged as a trusted high-leverage reliever this season even though he doesn’t miss quite as many bats as you’d expect from a guy who throws 100 mph on the regular. Also, he’s stayed healthy. Those medical concerns that scared the Red Sox away have yet to manifest.
Enrique Hernandez join the Dodgers along with Austin Barnes in the big seven-player with the Marlins that sent Dee Strange-Gordon to Miami a few years back. The Marlins originally acquired Hernandez from the Astros at the 2014 trade deadline, in the deal that sent Jarred Cosart to Miami for Jake Marisnick and Colin Moran, among others. He’s been traded twice and the two trades involved 11 different players. Anyway, Hernandez is one of the Dodgers’ many high-end role players. His ability to play just about anywhere and crush left-handed pitchers makes him a valuable and dangerous reserve piece.
The Dodgers and Rays are frequent trade partners, which isn’t surprising given the front office connections. They’ve made seven trades the last four years, including five trades in 2019 alone, and the most recent sent Adam Kolarek to the Dodgers. He is a left-on-left specialist in the three-batter minimum era but Los Angeles has picked their spots and found a way to make it work. The Rays received minor league outfielder Niko Hulsizer in the trade. He’s yet to play above Single-A ball.
Trading for a player like Mookie Betts gets all the headlines but it’s moves like acquiring guys like Chris Taylor that often separate the contenders from the pretenders. The Dodgers acquired Taylor from the Mariners in a one-for-one trade for right-hander Zach Lee, who never did throw a pitch for Seattle. He spent some time with their Triple-A affiliate before being lost on waivers after the season. Taylor, meanwhile, has blossomed into an super utility guy who can play just about anywhere, though his offense has taken a step back the last two years.
Generally speaking, free agency is the least efficient way to acquire talent in terms of cost vs. production. That hasn’t stopped the Dodgers from dipped their tow in the free agent pool, however. They’ve populated their roster with a series of shrewd free agent pickups.
An “if you can’t beat him, sign him” situation. Joe Kelly beat the Dodgers in the 2013 NLCS with the Cardinals — Kelly hit Hanley Ramirez with a pitch that series and broke a rib — and then again in the 2018 World Series with the Red Sox. Los Angeles gave Kelly a three-year contract last winter because he passes every analytics test — Kelly throws very hard with great spin rates on his breaking ball — though he continues to be dogged by inconsistency. Some days he’ll look like the best reliever in baseball, others he’ll look like he belongs in Triple-A.
One of two Dodgers to previously play for the Rays (Adam Kolarek is the other), Los Angeles signed Jake McGee after the Rockies released him in July. Comically, and almost predictably, McGee instantly became a high-leverage option with the Dodgers after being sub-replacement level with Colorado. Los Angeles helped him correct a mechanical flaw, which brought back some velocity and allowed him to throw more strikes. The Rockies had to pay McGee the pro-rated portion of his $9 million salary this season. The Dodgers were only on the hook for the league minimum, as is the case with all released players who sign elsewhere.
What an incredible and unlikely story. Max Muncy was released by the Athletics at the end of spring training in 2017 and he hooked on with the Dodgers shortly thereafter. He was so far out of the picture that season that he didn’t even get a September call-up. Injuries led to a call-up early in 2018 and Muncy hasn’t stopped hitting since. He’s now a middle of the order fixture for Los Angeles. Give the Dodgers a truth serum and I’m certain they’d tell you they didn’t expect Muncy to contribute this much. It’s better to be lucky than good, but in this case, the Dodgers are both.
The Mookie Betts contract is the largest contract the Dodgers have handed out during the Andrew Friedman era. That was an extension for a player already in the organization. The largest contract Friedman has given a free agent signed away from another team is the four-year deal he gave A.J. Pollock two years ago. Pollock’s first year with the Dodgers did not go well, but he bounced back very well in 2020, and finished third in the league with 16 home runs. The contract is complicated — it includes an opt out and escalators — and it looked like a dud in Year 1. In Year 2, Pollock is paying big dividends.
Two years ago Blake Treinen was arguably the most dominant reliever in the sport. Last year he was so bad the Athletics were unable to find a trade partner and had to non-tender him. The Dodgers signed Treinen as a reclamation project and while he had a solid bounceback season, he was closer to the 2019 version of himself rather than the 2018 version. His strikeouts and ground balls remain down, though it should be noted he pitched three straight days and threw five total innings in Games 5-7 of the NLCS. Treinen came up huge as the Dodgers completed the series comeback.
I’m not sure there’s been a more successful minor-league contract in the last 25 years or so. Justin Turner turned in a league average offensive season with the Mets in 2013, but they non-tendered him anyway, and the Dodgers pounced. Turner remade his swing that offseason — he was one of the original launch angle guys — and he’s been among the best hitters in baseball ever since, authoring a .302/.382/.503 batting line in parts of seven seasons with Los Angeles. He’s a heart-and-soul play and a big time postseason performer as well. A once-in-a-generation minor-league contract success story, truly.
Alex Wood originally joined the Dodgers as part of a massive three-team, 14-player trade with the Braves and Marlins at the 2015 trade deadline. He spent parts of four productive seasons with Los Angeles, then was shipped to the Reds last offseason in the Yasiel Puig trade. Back injuries sabotaged his season and he returned to the Dodgers as a reclamation project free agent this past winter. Shoulder problems limited Wood to 12 2/3 ineffective innings this season but he is on the postseason roster as the proverbial last man in the bullpen.
International free agents
There are two ways to acquire amateur talent: the draft and international free agency. The Dodgers scout Latin America as well as any team in the game and they have turned out quality players to use on their roster and as trade chips for years now, and the fruit of that labor is front and center on the 2020 team.
The Dodgers originally signed Pedro Baez as a position player out of the Dominican Republic. He was an infielder (a third baseman, specifically), who never really figured out how to hit. A .248/.309/.392 batting line in over 2,000 minor-league plate appearances led to a trial on the mound, and Baez is now a sneaky effective setup man. Yes, he works painfully slow, but he’s also really good, and he’s capable of pitching in any situation. Baez is not a star or anything. He’s just a rock solid member of the bullpen.
Acquired as part of a package deal with Julio Urias — MLB teams routinely work out agreements with Mexican League teams to sign multiple players at once — Victor Gonzalez was all projection at the time as a skinny 6-footer with a mid-to-upper-80s fastball. Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2017 season and, when he returned, he was throwing harder and with a more repeatable delivery. Gonzalez made his MLB debut thanks to the expanded 28-man roster this year and he quickly emerged as a trusted late-inning bullpen weapon for manager Dave Roberts.
Once upon a time Kenley Jansen was a light-hitting catcher. The Dodgers signed him out of Curacao as a 16-year-old in 2004, and, after a few seasons, it became clear he wasn’t going to hit enough to reach the big leagues. Jansen is a career .229/.310/.337 hitter in nearly 1,000 minor-league plate appearances. Even at catcher, where the offensive bar isn’t very high, that’s not going to cut it. Here is Jansen behind the plate during the 2009 World Baseball Classic:
The Dodgers put Jansen on the mound in 2009 and a year later he was in the big leagues. Although he no longer is what he was in his prime, Jansen is one of the most successful closers of the last decade, and there’s a decent chance he’ll be on the mound to get the final out should Los Angeles win the World Series this year.
Julio Urias was a significant amateur pitching prospect as a teenager in Mexico, though some teams were scared away by a left eye condition. Urias had a cancerous tumor removed from his eye as a child and it left him with a droopy eyelid that did not hurt his vision. The Dodgers signed him and he quickly developed into a potential ace and the top pitching prospect in the game. Major shoulder surgery put his career in jeopardy a few years ago, but Urias has fully recovered, and the 24-year-old — yes, Urias is still only 24 — is now getting key outs for a pennant winner as a starter and as a reliever.
Those 28 players above made up the Dodgers’ active roster for the ALCS. Teams were able to carry up to 12 players on their postseason taxi squad as well, and those 12 players are the only players who can be added to the active roster in October. Your postseason player pool is your postseason player pool. No exceptions. Here are the 12 extra players the Dodgers are carrying with them in the postseason.
Andrew Friedman has a thing for complicated trades and Scott Alexander was part of one. The lefty reliever joined the Dodgers in a three-team trade with the Royals and White Sox a few years back. The full trade:
There was once some thought Alexander would become the next Zack Britton, that super high ground ball lefty, but that never did come to fruition. Instead, he’s spent the last few seasons as an up and down depth arm with the Dodgers.
This is Rocky Gale’s second stint with the Dodgers. He spent 2018 and most of 2019 with their Triple-A affiliate, was traded to the Rays at the 2019 trade deadline, then returned to Los Angeles as a free agent this past offseason. Gale never did suit up for the Dodgers this season — he never played for the Rays last year either — instead spending the year at the alternate site. He is on the 12-man taxi squad as the fourth catcher.
The Dodgers are where they are partly because they consistently trade spare part players for quality prospects to replenish the system. Josiah Gray was a well-regarded second round pick in 2018, then the Reds sent him to the Dodgers in the Yasiel Puig trade that winter. The full trade: Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer for Gray, Jeter Downs, and Homer Bailey. Gray had a breakout 2019 season and now ranks among the game’s top 100 prospects (Downs was later traded to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts deal). Although he has not yet made his MLB debut, the Dodgers are so confident in Gray that he’s on their postseason taxi squad. He wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe he could help.
Terrance Gore continues to hang around as a pinch-running specialist. He appeared in two games with the Dodgers during the regular season and was on their Wild Card Series roster, though he did not get into a game. Gore isn’t much of a hitter and he’s not as good defensively as his speed would lead you to believe, but gosh, the man can run. The expanded 28-man roster helped keep him relevant this year.
Wisconsin is becoming a baseball hot bed. Gavin Lux and Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic are two of the best prospects in baseball and both were first round picks out of Wisconsin high schools. Lux appeared poised to take over as the team’s regular second baseman this season, but he instead spent most of the year at the alternate site, and wasn’t very good when the Dodgers did give him a big league opportunity. Still only 22, Lux will look to rebound and become a full-timer in 2021.
Similar to Matt Beaty, Zach McKinstry was a late-round pick who showed feel for the barrel in college, and has since exploded as a prospect after the Dodgers helped him improve his launch angle. He barrels up the ball consistently and has power, and can play just about any position. McKinstry made his MLB debut earlier this year and is a quality depth option on the taxi squad.
If nothing else, DJ Peters certainly looks the part of a big leaguer. He’s big and strong, and very athletic, and he has tremendous power. Swing and miss issues and defensive inconsistency might prevent him from becoming an everyday player at the next level, but Peters will punish mistakes, and is a nice piece of depth as a righty hitting outfield bat. Peters has not yet made his MLB debut.
Luke Raley is an original Dodgers draft pick (seventh round in 2016) who went to the Twins in the Brian Dozier trade, then returned to Los Angeles in the Kenta Maeda trade this past offseason. He is sort of a left-handed version of DJ Peters as a guy with good power and enough of everything else to be a platoon option on a contending team. Raley has not yet made his MLB debut.
The Dodgers originally signed Dennis Santana as an infielder out of the Dominican Republic but quickly realized he wasn’t much of a hitter, so they put him on the mound a year into his career. He reached the big leagues four years later and has a quality three-pitch mix. Inconsistent command and stuff that can waver from outing to outing probably means Santana’s future lies in the bullpen. He’s appeared in 16 games with Los Angeles the last three years.
The younger brother of former Tigers righty Jay Sborz, Josh Sborz was a second round pick like his brother, and he’s settled in as a solid bullpen prospect after spending most of his time at Virginia and in the low minors as a starter/swingman. Sborz has a big league fastball/slider combination and an unconventional arm slot, though control issues have prevented him from sticking with the Dodgers during his various cups of coffee the last two seasons.
Signing bonuses will tell you a lot about international amateur prospects and the fact Keibert Ruiz signed for a relative pittance out of Venezuela is an indication not many expected him to become an impact player. He has since developed into a top 100 prospect and one of the top catching prospects in the game. Despite only nine games of Triple-A experience, Ruiz made his MLB debut this summer, and is on the postseason taxi squad as the third catcher in case of injury. In fact, he was on the Wild Card Series active roster before being dropped for an extra arm in the NLDS.
Mitchell White had Tommy John surgery as a high school junior and didn’t really break out as a prospect until his junior year at Santa Clara, when he finished in the top 10 in the country in strikeouts. Injuries have continued to dog White as a pro but he has premium stuff, enough that he could carve out a role as a high-leverage reliever should starting not work out. He made his MLB debut and appeared in two games with Los Angeles this season.
It should be noted the Dodgers have already had nine members of their 2016 draft class reach the big leagues: Gavin Lux (first round), Will Smith (supplemental first round), Mitch White (second round), Dustin May (third round), Devin Smeltzer (fifth round, traded to Twins in Brian Dozier deal), Andre Scrubb (eighth round, traded to Astros in Tyler White deal), Tony Gonsolin (ninth round), Dean Kremer (14th round, traded to Orioles in Manny Machado deal), and Zack McKinstry (33rd round). DJ Peters (fourth round) and Luke Raley (seventh round) still have a chance to make it too. The Dodgers had an incredible draft in 2016.