There are several ways to build a baseball team, including drafting, developing, trading, and spending money in free agency. The Dodgers are very good at all of those, which is at least part of why they’ve been the best team in baseball since Andrew Friedman took over the front office prior to the 2015 season.
But one area where some people don’t give Friedman & Co. enough credit is identifying “scrap heap players” — players who can be acquired cheaply (either via free agency or trade) and then unlock some of their potential. Justin Turner is perhaps one of the most famous examples of this type of player, but Friedman can’t take credit for that one, as it was his predecessor, Ned Colletti, who brought JT into the fold. It might be Joey Gallo who has this on our minds right now, but six games is far too soon to say whether he will be another feather in Friedman’s cap. (Although, to be clear, Gallo has already been worth 0.2 WAR to the Dodgers in 15 plate appearances, after providing just 0.4 WAR in 501 PA with the Yankees.)
So in the spirit of JT and Gallo, let’s look at Andrew Friedman’s Top 12 Scrap Heap Pickups!
12. Albert Pujols
When the Angels cut Pujols loose early in the 2021 season, the Dodgers picked him up for just the prorated league minimum salary, with Anaheim footing most of the bill. Pujols was forced into more playing time than expected, and he put up his best season in five years, posting a league-average 99 OPS+ with 12 home runs in 204 plate appearances. Throw in the veteran leadership “Uncle Albert” provided in the dugout and the clubhouse, and this was an unexpectedly good signing by the front office of Friedman & Friends.
11. Jake McGee
McGee was a very good pitcher with the Rays his first six seasons, and then he went to Colorado, where good pitchers go to die. After posting a 4.78 ERA over four seasons, the Rockies cut him list in June of 2020, and he caught on with the Dodgers. McGee posted a 2.66 ERA over the rest of the season and helped the Dodgers win the 2020 World Series.
10. Corey Knebel
Knebel was an outstanding closer for the Brewers, saving 39 games in 2017. But a 2018 injury cost him the entire 2019 season, and he was ineffective in 2020 (6.08 ERA). The Brewers traded him to the Dodgers for a player to be named later that winter, and the Scrap Heap Machine got to work. Knebel posted the best hits-per-9 and HR-per-9 rates of his career, putting up a 2.45 ERA in 25.1 innings for the 2021 Dodgers.
9. Alex Vesia
Vesia almost didn’t make this list because he wasn’t quite a scrap-heap guy, but he was a 24-year-old who had posted an ERA of 18.69 in limited time with the Marlins in 2020. The Dodgers bought low on Vesia and sold high on Dylan Floro, who almost made this list himself for his time in Dodger Blue. Vesia has posted a 2.59 ERA in two seasons with the Dodgers and is a viable lefty power arm out of the bullpen.
8. Matt Kemp Part II
Kemp’s best years came with the Dodgers in the first nine years of his career, making two All-Star teams, winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, and being famously robbed of the 2011 MVP Award. His time in San Diego and Atlanta was mediocre, with his bat dropping almost to league average and his defense among the worst in baseball. The Dodgers re-acquired Kemp in a salary dump, and he came into camp in his best shape since his previous Dodgers stint. Kemp had an outstanding first half in 2018, making his third and final All-Star team and helping the Dodgers stay afloat in a tough NL West. While his production fell off in the second half and the Dodgers traded him (again) after the season, Kemp’s 2018 resurgence is a great line on Friedman’s résumé.
7. Yency Almonte
I know it’s only been a little over half a season and Almonte is currently injured, but he has been so good for the Dodgers this year that he easily makes this list. It was actually his former teammate McGee who recommended he look into the Dodgers, and Los Angeles has helped him refine his stuff and pitch usage in a way that has turned him into a dominant high-leverage reliever. Almonte has a 1.15 ERA this year and has already doubled his previous career-high WAR.
6. Brandon Morrow
Morrow was a former top prospect, taken a few picks ahead of Clayton Kershaw in the 2006 draft. His career as a starter never panned out, and after two solid seasons in San Diego, the Dodgers picked him up on a minor league contract before the 2017 season. He made his season debut on Memorial Day, and with his 2.06 ERA he combined with Kenley Jansen to form a formidable late-inning duo. He was so good for the Dodgers that the Cubs gave him a big contract to be their closer after the season.
It’s been even less time for Trayce than it has been for Almonte, but Trayce has posted a 1.3 WAR since being acquired for cash considerations on June 20, a 4.7-WAR pace over a full season. He’s started, he’s come off the bench, he’s done everything the Dodgers asked him to do, and he has done it well. He was DFAd by the Padres earlier this season and then, again, sold by the Tigers to the Dodgers for an amount so small they don’t even bother to put a number on it. And he’s turned what looked like a three-week gig while Mookie Betts was hurt into a solid spot on the roster of the best team in baseball.
4. Evan Phillips
The Dodgers claimed Phillips off waivers late in the 2021 season, and he has been nothing short of outstanding. His power fastball and ridiculous slider, along with a very good cutter, make him one of the most unhittable relievers in baseball. He’s posted a 1.40 ERA this season, and it’s not crazy to think he might be the Dodgers closer next year. The Braves, Orioles, and Rays all gave up on Phillips; the Dodgers helped turn him into an elite reliever.
3. Tyler Anderson
Anderson had a very good rookie season in Colorado in 2016. From 2017-21, he was somewhere between “solid” and “bad.” The Dodgers signed him in the offseason, in a move very few people were excited about. He has rewarded them with a 13-1 record, a 2.72 ERA, and his first career All-Star selection.
2. Chris Taylor
CT3 came to the Dodgers, as you might have heard, from the Mariners in a 2016 trade for former pitching prospect Zach Lee. Taylor overhauled his swing after 2016, and he was a different player. After several years as a light-hitting infielder, Taylor turned himself into a power-hitting outfielder and super-utility player. Taylor has become a fan favorite, and All-Star, and more than anyone could have possibly imagined when they traded for him six years ago.
1. Max Muncy
Muncy was maybe the most scrap-heap of all these players, and has probably had the best Dodgers career. The A’s released him near the end of spring training in 2017, and he actually went home and thought his career might be over. He, like Taylor, remade his swing, and when the Dodgers came calling in late April 2017 — when they needed someone to fill a hole in Triple-A caused by Cody Bellinger’s promotion to the big leagues — Muncy rewarded them with a .905 OPS in Oklahoma City. When the Dodgers needed someone in 2018, Muncy got his shot, and he never looked back. With 131 home runs in three full seasons and two partial seasons, Muncy has established himself as a legitimate slugger. His place in scrap-heap history is secure no matter what, and with Muncy heating up lately he’s looking to add to his legacy.
Who did we miss? Who is your favorite Andrew Friedman reclamation project?
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