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Dodgers are the latest stop on Billy McKinney’s journey

McKinney has played for three teams in 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Dodgers are Billy McKinney’s third team this season, with the outfielder having played for the Brewers and Mets before getting traded to Los Angeles on July 21. Switching organizations in-season is nothing new for McKinney, who has been traded or claimed on waivers six times during the last eight seasons.

“I’ve learned how to pack lighter,” McKinney said Wednesday. “It’s never easy to say goodbye to teammates and friends.”

McKinney reached base twice and scored in Wednesday night’s win over the Giants, and drove in the only run for the Dodgers on Tuesday night.

“He’s a ballplayer. He’s a major league player,” manager Dave Roberts said Wednesday. “I like him defensively, in the batters box. He’s taking good at-bats.”

Opportunity with the Dodgers for McKinney has come in the form of immediate playing time, starting all six games since joining the team with Mookie Betts unavailable with a hip injury.

McKinney in his career has been markedly better against right-handed pitching (97 wRC+) than lefties (62 wRC+). This year is more of the same. So far with Los Angeles he’s 2-for-12 with four walks against righties and 2-for-6 with a walk against lefties.

Drafted by the A’s in the first round in 2013 — current teammates Phil Bickford (13th overall, did not sign) and Corey Knebel (39th) were also picked in the same round — McKinney the next season was playing in the Cal League with Stockton when he was traded for the first time. He was sent to the Cubs along with Addison Russell and Dan Straily in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

“I was 19 years old, it was July 4. It wasn’t even the deadline day, and it was my first full season,” McKinney recalled. “I thought there’s no way I was going to be traded. I just got drafted, and they pulled me out of the game right before it started. By the seventh inning I was traded.

“That was definitely a tough one. It shocked me. Being a kid, probably a little immaturity, I was upset. But obviously I was glad to move on and get a new opportunity.”

Many more opportunities would come for McKinney, who before the 2015 and 2016 seasons appeared on a few top-100 prospect lists. That made him one of the headliners dealt to New York — along with Gleyber Torres and friends — for Aroldis Chapman in the final week before the 2016 trade deadline.

It was with New York that McKinney made his major league debut in 2018, singling off the Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez in his first major league at-bat. But after just two games, the Yankees traded him to the Blue Jays for J.A. Happ. McKinney made Toronto’s opening day roster in both 2019 and 2020, but spent the bulk of last season at the alternate training site before getting designated for assignment in September.

Milwaukee claimed him off waivers, and though he didn’t play in the majors for them in 2020, he was on the Brewers’ opening day roster this year. That lasted until May when McKinney, who is out of options, was designated for assignment before getting traded to the Mets. He started a little more often with New York, but as the Mets roster got a little healthier McKinney was on the move again.

McKinney on the move in-season

Date From To For Notes
Date From To For Notes
Jul 5, 2014 A's Cubs Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel 3-for-2 trade
Jul 25, 2016 Cubs Yankees Aroldis Chapman 4-for-1 trade
Jul 26, 2018 Yankees Blue Jays J.A. Happ 2-for-1 trade
Sep 14, 2020 Blue Jays Brewers n/a waiver claim
May 26, 2021 Brewers Mets Pedro Quintana
Jul 21, 2021 Mets Dodgers Carlos Rincon

McKinney is on his third team this season. The other two teams are currently in first place, while the Dodgers are two games back, trying for their ninth straight National League West divisional title. Nobody has ever played for three teams that finished in first place in one season.

“Not many people have had this journey, so it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here.”

Roberts said he expects McKinney to play both corner outfield spots and occasionally some first base. So far, every start has been in right field with Betts on the injured list, a stint that could end as soon as Sunday. With shortstop Corey Seager also potentially returning this weekend in Arizona, the “runway” that Roberts has described for McKinney will likely feature a more intermittent flight schedule soon.

He’s used to the adjustments by now.

“I’ve had such a crazy journey throughout my career, I feel like nothing really surprises me anymore,” McKinney said. “I try to not really make too much of the situation. I just say, ‘Alright, let’s go do it,’ and try to go out there and get as prepared as I can.”