Los Angeles Dodgers: The Art of Building a Contender

Trea Turner, Corey Seager
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 10: Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hugs Corey Seager #5 after the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 10, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Dodgers defeated the Phillies 5-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have built a roster capable of winning the World Series in back-to-back years. They have employed the most basic fundamentals in roster construction to form a championship-caliber team. Through drafting and developing of players, smart free agent signings, and shrewd trades, the Dodgers have become a Major League Baseball team that every other franchise attempts to emulate. L.A. has proved just how important it is to draft and develop cheap and productive talent rather than buy championships.

This was on full display with their recent blockbuster acquisition of former Nationals stars Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. By producing much of their talent via their farm system, the Dodgers were able to splurge at this years’ MLB Trade Deadline and add very expensive pieces in Scherzer and Turner. The only reason a trade of this magnitude was ever possible is because core pieces such as outfielder Cody Bellinger, shortstop Corey Seager, and pitcher Walker Buehler were brought up in the Dodgers’ system and thus are cheap and controllable for several years. Now, the Dodgers are in a position to win back-to-back World Series titles for the first time in their history.


Acquiring Talent The Right Way


The Los Angeles Dodgers did not win their first World Series last year since 1988 by accident. They did it by drafting and developing players in their farm system. It really is true that just about every World Series-winning team is built on a foundation of homegrown players. In recent memory, the only team that has seemingly defied this rule would be the 2019 Washington Nationals. But does anyone believe the Nats could have won the World Series without Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg? Of course not, so it should come as no surprise that all three of these players are homegrown talents.

As for the Dodgers, they went about team building by scouting prospects in each and every MLB Draft. Then they chose the players they believed had the best chance to blossom into stars. What has that resulted in? Well, the Dodgers have drafted or developed Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Kenley Jansen, Will Smith, Gavin Lux, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, etc. The list of success stories for L.A. goes on and on. Clearly, the only way to truly compete for a World Series year in and year out is to draft and develop a large chunk of your own players.

The Dodgers further augmented their championship rosters of the past several years by adding talent via the free-agent market. By far their biggest free-agent splash is star right fielder Mookie Betts, formally of the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers coveted cap space over free-agent spending sprees during the better half of the 2010s. Then in early 2020, when it became clear that the Red Sox would be unable to afford Betts and his massive new contract, the Dodgers swooped in and acquired him via trade. They gave up promising outfielder Alex Verdugo, as well as quality prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. The fruits of a well-built roster again shined as the Dodgers were easily able to move three good prospects without completely hollowing out their farm system.

While Verdugo is good and the other two prospects seemingly have a bright future, none will likely ever be Betts. So the Dodgers not only played their cards right in acquiring Betts and pitcher David Price, they played them flawlessly. While other teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies were practically giving away “stupid money” and splurging on very good but not great players (Bryce Harper) in free agency, the Dodgers were sitting on the sidelines waiting to pounce on their preferred superstar. And when Betts became available, they did not miss their chance.

The final formula in the Los Angeles Dodgers roster construction equation is shrewd trades. The Dodgers have essentially written the book on smart trades that benefit the team in the short and long term. Los Angeles famously traded pitcher Zach Lee to the Seattle Mariners for infielder Chris Taylor. While Lee flamed out in Seattle and was released shortly thereafter, Tayler has become a mainstay in the Dodgers infield. Taylor plays smooth defense, hits for average and some power, and has been one of the Dodger’s cheapest and most productive players.

And Taylor was just one of many smart trades the Dodgers have made over the past several years. They also traded star outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp among others to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2019 season. In return, they received Reds starter Homer Bailey and two quality prospects in pitcher Josiah Gray and infielder Jeter Downs.

Both of these prospects would go on to become key pieces in future trades the Dodgers made. Downs was included in the aforementioned package for L.A. to land Mookie Betts, and Gray was recently one of the headliners in the Dodgers blockbuster trade for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals. Both of these trades may not have happened if Los Angeles did not make that Puig-Kemp deal with Cincinnati.

It is important to note that the two veteran outfielders were productive for L.A. at the time of the trade. However, both players after the trade had very little effect on winning in Cincinnati. Kemp was released that spring and Puig was gone by the trade deadline. This makes the Dodgers the undeniable winner of that trade as well as many others.

The Fruits of the Dodger’s Labor


The Los Angeles Dodgers, as mentioned, are the reigning World Series champs. They are also the favorites to win this year, currently sitting at +325 after the moves for Scherzer and Turner. Perhaps we would be discussing a Dodger Blue dynasty had it not been for the sign-stealing 2017 Astros. As fate would have it, the Astros are currently the team with the second-best odds to win the World Series. It should come as no surprise to anyone if these two foes once again meet in the World Series (maybe it will even be fair this time). The incredible thing about the Dodgers is that they may become a dynasty with their current iteration of players anyway.

They have the longevity with young superstars such as Betts, Bellinger, and Walker Beuhler. So it is firmly in the realm of possibility that they win two or three more titles before they rebuild. Los Angeles, more or less, has been competitive every year since 2010, when they finished just below .500 at 80-82. How have the Dodgers been able to stay this competitive for this long? The answer is again young controllable talent that the Dodger’s front office continues to draft and develop.

Speaking of the front office, L.A. Dodger’s President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friendman has done an exceptional job at identifying and acquiring talent since his arrival with the organization in 2014. He also has an MLB Executive of the Year title under his belt, having won it after the Dodgers 2020 World Series Title. Friedman was no slouch before his arrival in L.A. either. He was named Executive of the Year by Sporting News in 2008 while overseeing the Tampa Bay Rays. Friedman of course is not the only reason the Dodgers have had so much success recently.

Manager Dave Roberts has steadied the blue ship and oversaw some of the most successful seasons in Dodgers’ history. Despite falling short until last season’s title, Roberts was able to guide the Dodgers to 104 wins in 2017 and 106 in 2019. Then, he led the Dodger’s best season ever by win percentage. L.A. went 43-17 in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, good for a 7.17 win percentage. Roberts also got the Manager of the Year Award following the 2016 season.

All of these successes by both Friendman and Roberts can be traced back to the players on the field. And the Dodgers have had some of the best in recent seasons. Cody Bellinger won the National League MVP Award in 2019, and Clayton Kershaw won it in 2014. Kershaw also won the N.L. Cy Young Award in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Corey Seager won the 2020 World Series MVP Award, and closer Kenley Jansen was named Reliever of the Year in 2016 and 2017. Bellinger and Mookie Betts both collected Gold Gloves for their work in the right field in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Additionally, Seager won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 while Bellinger won it in 2017. Betts, Bellinger, and Seager also have combined for four Silver Slugger Awards during their time with the Dodgers. Clearly, L.A. has had its share of baseball recognition recently.


The Bottom Line


The Los Angeles Dodgers have seemingly checked off all the boxes when it comes to building a contender. They drafted and developed players with the keenest perception. They smartly signed free agents to manageable contracts and moved on from most players when they passed their prime. And they made some of the most shrewd trades to further boost a roster capable of competing with the best teams in baseball. Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts helped to cultivate a team that is in position to potentially repeat as world champions. Fans of L.A. continued to support their team after countless postseasons disappointments during the last decade. And most importantly, the Dodgers themselves have stuck to their plan through thick and thin to build what many say will be the next Major League Baseball dynasty.

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