Los Angeles DodgersMLBTampa Bay Rays

The Rays and Dodgers Similar Build Creates Fascinating Dynamic

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Tonight is Game One of the World Series that sees the third lowest budget in baseball (Rays) vs the highest (Dodgers), in an overwhelming disparity in payroll. To put it into perspective, with the prorated salaries of 2020, the Rays are paying their 40 man roster a total of $28.773,481 in 2020 while Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw alone make $26,308,642. Yet, despite the money incongruity, the two teams will face head to head with the ultimate goal in mind.

The Rays have already eliminated the Yankees and the Astros, and could eliminate all three of the highest payrolls. Yet, they’re built the same way as the Dodgers. How did these two teams find their group?

Key Trades

The Dodgers President Andrew Friedman spent years as a Tampa Bay Ray. He was their general manager and mastermind of the 2008 club before heading over to the Dodgers. The 43 year old was team GM from 2005 to 2013, until he went to the Dodgers, who he has since made two other World Series appearances with. The Rays since 2008 have been known as the most innovative front office in sports, a trend that started with Friedman due to the lack of funds he had in the St. Pete area. With the Dodgers? That’s taken care of.

There’s this idea that the Dodgers built their team through free agency, but they didn’t. Let’s break this down:

  • Dodgers trade Jeter Downs, Alex Verdugo, and Connor Wong to the Red Sox for Mookie Betts and David Price.
  • Dodgers trade Niko Hulsizer to the Rays for Adam Kolarek.
  • Dodgers trade Aneurys Zabala and James Marinan to the Reds for Dylan Floro.
  • Dodgers trade Kenta Maeda and Jair Camargo to the Twins for Brusdar Graterol and Luke Raley.
  • Dodgers trade Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas to the Marlins for Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes, Andrew Heaney and Chris Hatcher.
  • Dodgers trade Zach Lee to the Mariners for Chris Taylor.

The Dodgers got seven players on their playoff roster from trades. The Rays?

  • Rays trade Chris Archer to the Pirates for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz.
  • Rays trade Edgardo Rodriguez and Matthew Liberatore to the Cardinals for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena.
  • Rays trade David Price to the Tigers for Nick Franklin, Willy Adames and Drew Smyly.
  • Rays trade Jonah Heim to the Athletics for Joey Wendle.
  • Rays trade Ryne Stanek and Jesus Sanchez to the Marlins for Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards.
  • Rays trade Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth to the Padres for Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards.
  • Rays trade Emilio Pagan to the Padres for Manuel Margot.
  • Rays trade Brad Miller to the Brewers for Ji-Man Choi.
  • Rays trade cash considerations to the Pirates for Aaron Slegers.
  • Rays trade Nick Solak to the Rangers for Peter Fairbanks.
  • Rays trade Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley to the Mariners for Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia and Michael Plassmeyer.
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  • Rays trade Matt Andriese to the Diamondbacks for Michael Perez and Brian Shaffer.
  • Rays trade Lucius Fox to the Royals for Brett Phillips.
  • Rays trade Jake Bauers to the Indians, Indians trade Carlos Santana to the Mariners, Mariners trade Edwin Encarnacion to the Indians, Indians trade Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser to the Rays.

Fifteen players on the Rays World Series roster came from different trades, including their All-Star RF (Meadows), Game One starter (Glasnow), both of their catching duo, both of their first basemen, their dynamic shortstop, starting third baseman and closer, as well as one of their setup men. The ALCS MVP was even a throw-in player for Jose Martinez. Some of them, such as Joey Wendle, were dumpster diving that worked out in an unbelievable way for the Rays, but both teams have a knack for that, too.

Minor League Signings

Much like both clubs have done with trades, they see some under the radar players that haven’t put it together and take a chance. The Dodgers roster currently has three of these minor league signings, two of them are All-Stars. Justin Turner was one of the worst players in baseball when he was released by the New York Mets, but signed with the Dodgers before the 2014 season on a minor league contract. He was brought back to the Majors when Hanley Ramirez got injured and never looked back. As a Dodger, the 2017 All-Star has been great defensively to along with video game like offense. He has a .302/.382/.503 statline in Dodger Blue, giving him an .885 OPS, with 116 homeruns and 287 walks.

Another one was Max Muncy, who bombed at the Major League level in Oakland and didn’t play in the Show for two years until the Dodgers gave him an opportunity. He was an All-Star in 2019.

The third is Jake McGee, who was released in July by the Rockies and picked up by the Dodgers. If he made the Majors, he’d make $4M, and he did. He had a 2.66 ERA the rest of the way. He came up with the Tampa Bay Rays and pitched for them from 2010 to 2015 before he went to Colorado in the trade for Corey Dickerson.

The Rays scored two of their horses in the stable through minor league contracts this past offseason. The first is John Curtiss (pictured), who was released by the Phillies in July of last season. In 17 regular season games a as a Ray, he went 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA.

The other is Aaron Loup, a long time Toronto Blue Jay who struggled with injuries as a Padre in 2019. He’s been healthy in 2020 and solid. He posted a 2.52 ERA in 24 regular season outings.

Coming Through The System

Every year, there are two teams consistently in the top three farm systems in the game: The Rays and The Dodgers. Their player development in the minors are second to nobody and between their draft picks and international free agents, they have more talent than anybody through the pipeline. Fortunately, those are the players you see traded for the other pieces or they come up and make an impact. The Dodgers rely on their system less as they can extend players to massive deals (Betts, Kershaw, Jansen, Turner, etc) and not worry about losing them to free agency unlike the Rays. Let’s look at their international free agents, rule five draft picks (only one between the two clubs), undrafted free agent signings and amateur draft picks.

  • Kenley Jansen, undrafted free agent 2004.
  • Pedro Baez, undrafted free agent 2007.
  • Clayton Kershaw, 7th overall pick in 2008.
  • Joc Pederson, 11th round pick in 2010.
  • Victor Gonzalez, international free agent in 2012.
  • Julio Urias, international free agent in 2012.
  • Corey Seager, first round pick in 2012.
  • Will Smith, first round pick in 2012.
  • Dustin May, third round pick in 2012.
  • Cody Bellinger, fourth round pick in 2013.
  • Walker Buehler, first round pick in 2015.
  • Edwin Rios, sixth round pick in 2015.
  • Matt Beaty, 12th round pick in 2015.
  • Tony Gonsolin, ninth round pick in 2016.

The Dodgers have one of the best scouting systems in baseball, hitting on a number of later round draft picks to develop solid major leaguers. Joc Pederson was an 11th rounder that became an All-Star. That 2012 crop has been stellar, with Corey Seager being one of the game’s elite shortstops and the NLCS MVP this year. Dustin May is one of the league’s most electrifying young arms, while Victor Gonzalez and Will Smith have been huge in the postseason. Julio Urias has been a stellar pitch for them since 2016. Other things to look at: Kenley Jansen, undrafted in 2005. He was a catcher until 2009 when he switched to pitching. By 2010, he was in the Majors and by 2012 he was their closer. He is now a 3x All-Star and hasn’t given up the closer role. Clayton Kershaw needs to introduction, a former MVP, Triple Crown and 3x Cy Young might be the best draft choice the Dodgers ever made, and he starts Game One tonight. Cody Bellinger came out of the fourth round and became a league MVP. 15 players on the Dodger World Series roster have only ever played within the Dodger organization.

  • Kevin Kiermaier, 31st round pick in 2010.
  • Diego Castillo, international free agent in 2014.
  • Brandon Lowe, third round pick in 2015.
  • Michael Brosseau, undrafted free agent in 2016.
  • Josh Fleming, fifth round pick in 2017.
  • Ryan Thompson, Rule 5 pick from the Astros in 2018.
  • Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, international free agent in 2020.

Only six players on the Rays roster have only ever played within their organization, one of which (Tsutsugo) jumped right to the Majors on a two year/$12M from Japan. Brandon Lowe is one of MLBs top 2B in his sophomore season, an All-Star in his rookie year. He’s slumped heavily in October, but was their best bat in 2020. Kevin Kiermaier was a very late pick but has turned himself into the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Michael Brosseau hit the homerun that sent the Rays to the ALCS, and he wasn’t even drafted. Diego Castillo has been one of the top situational relievers in baseball the last two seasons.

Free Agency

Most teams build their roster through free agency, even if to find a missing piece. These two teams, however, have not. There’s only five unrestricted free agent signings between these two teams. One includes Dodgers Alex Wood, which was a bargain deal rewarding a player who had previously played for them at a high level.

  • Joe Kelly, three years, $27M.
  • Alex Wood, one year, $4M.
  • AJ Pollock, four years, $55M with a $10M fifth year player option.
  • Blake Trienen, one year, $10M.

While that is a bit of cash in free agency, two of them are very short term. Trienen and Wood had atrocious 2019 seasons and looked to bounceback. Pollock and Kelly are the only major free agents on the Dodgers. This idea that the Dodgers are big free agent spenders when they haven’t inked a top tier free agent in a long time is extremely misguided. Almost all of their money goes into extending and rewarding the players who do well for them. The players that walk are normally replaced by up and coming talent through their system. It’s a far different strategy than the one employed by teams such as the Angels, Red Sox, Nationals and Yankees.

The Rays only free agent deal on this roster is in its second and potentially final year (there’s a third year club option) on veteran pitcher Charlie Morton. Morton inked a $30M deal close to home before the 2019 season and was an All-Star in 2019. He won the clinching ALCS Game for the Rays in Game 7. He also turns 37 next month. The Rays have no long term players locked up through a free agency spending spree.

The Tampa Bays and Los Angeles Dodgers may have a vastly different payroll number, yet they’re built extremely similarly. The Dodgers operate as if they were the Rays if the Rays had better funding. The Dodgers built more through their farm system and player development for their big league roster, while the Rays use that to regularly fill holes through trades from their prospect rich system. Neither, however, are built through free agency.

The World Series begins tonight and only three players that will play in this Fall Classic (Betts, Kelly, Morton) have won a Championship previously in their career. This will be a tremendous series and it starts tonight on FOX.

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