A First-Place Team With a Lot of Work to Do

Name the holes the Dodgers have if they intend to make a playoff push this year, in rough order of urgency:

  1. First base. James Loney & Juan Rivera are both atrocious, as Dodger first basemen have combined for a .271 wOBA, second-worst in baseball ahead of only Seattle.
  2. Third base. Juan Uribe is an automatic out when healthy, and he’s rarely even that; Elian Herrera & Adam Kennedy are below-average replacements. Combined, the .292 wOBA is sixth-worst in baseball, and one of the teams behind them (the White Sox) figures to improve now that they’ve swapped out Orlando Hudson for Kevin Youkilis.
  3. Shortstop. Dee Gordon has been up-and-down all season, showing flashes of brilliance around frustrating struggles on both sides of the ball, and now he’s almost certainly headed to the disabled list after dislocating his thumb last night. It’s nice to think Luis Cruz has had a few good days, yet nothing in his long minor-league track record suggests he’s someone you count on at the big-league level. On offense, shortstop is another bottom-five wOBA, and when including defense with fWAR, it’s arguably the worst group in the game.
  4. Left field. For a time, I figured that a team which had Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier in the other two outfield spots could get by with some collection of Bobby Abreu / Jerry Hairston / Tony Gwynn / Scott Van Slyke / Herrera / Rivera in left, but now I’m not so sure. Van Slyke clearly isn’t ready, and I feel like not enough people have noticed that Abreu is hitting .192/.292/.295 since May 31, with negative defensive value. (The ‘hot start’ myth strikes again!) The same goes for Herrera, who has cratered since his nice debut, and while Gwynn is of course excellent with the glove, he still has a .288 OBP on the season. The .274 wOBA from this group is only just barely better than Pittsburgh’s for the worst offensive production in the game.
  5. Starting pitcher. It’s foolish to say, as some have, that Clayton Kershaw has taken a big step back from his 2011, and Chris Capuano has been the surprise find of the year; also, Aaron Harang has been adequate at the back of the rotation. Yet with Chad Billingsley eternally inconsistent, Ted Lilly lost to an injury that’s clearly far more serious than we were first told, and Nathan Eovaldi getting hit hard, there’s definitely room for improvement here.
  6. Relief pitcher. I actually don’t want to include this here, since the group as a whole has been solid and Javy Guerra could be back any day, with Blake Hawksworth & Rubby De La Rosa potentially rejoining later in the summer. But we’ll add it since Ned Colletti’s desire to add another reliever is always included in media reports, and the rough debut of Shawn Tolleson and the season-ending injury to Todd Coffey isn’t helping. I have to admit, as much as I love what Ronald Belisario‘s done, I’m terrified about relying on him, and that’s not just because of his obvious demons – it’s hard to believe a .145 BABIP lasts forever.

Now if you didn’t know any better, you’d think I was talking about a club that was struggling to even reach .500, much less one that pushed its way back into first place yesterday. Yet here they are, and while we can argue about whether it’s the right path, I don’t think there’s any question that a team in first place, with a new ownership group looking to impress, and with an incumbent general manager looking to keep his job, is going to be buying – we already saw them try for Carlos Lee, who ended up in Miami yesterday.

For me, the question is less about looking at trade options to fill a hole or two, but about how many holes you can really fill. Does fixing one problem matter when you still have four or five others staring you in the face? If not, how can the Dodgers – flush with money, but limited with prospects – find everything they need on a market very short on impact players?

For example, Jed Lowrie seems like the perfect fit, as he can fill in for Gordon at shortstop now and then replace Uribe at third later, but he’s likely to be massively expensive, to the point where Zach Lee is probably where the conversation starts; you might say the same about Chase Headley. Everywhere else you look, you get a variety of new opinions. At dodgers.com, Ken Gurnick names a bunch of new supposed targets, including Aramis Ramirez (intriguing), Corey Hart (probably not available), Ryan Dempster (a well-known target), Cole Hamels (can’t see the Dodgers meeting trade price, but definitely in the winter), and Michael Cuddyer (DOES NOT WANT). MLB Trade Rumors has the Dodgers tops on their list of teams looking for first basemen, including potentially available Ty Wigginton (such an obvious future Dodger I’m surprised we haven’t talked about it already), Bryan LaHair (pass), Justin Morneau (intriguing but risky), Mark Kotsay (NOOOOO!), and Adam Lind (who knows?).

I think we all know that the Dodgers are going to do something by the end of the month, and that’s what makes July both so entertaining and so terrifying. Yet with such an odd mix of talent available in the marketplace, I’m not sure that they can really fix all of the problems this roster has – in fact, I’m sure that they can’t, because there’s just too many. You can argue that no team is going to get a bigger July boost than getting back Kemp & Ethier after the All-Star break, and that’s probably true. Now let’s see how many of the other leaks they can plug without giving up on too much of the future.