The Dodgers have been playing catch-up all season. Last year, the Dodgers came out of the gate on fire, and were able to runaway and hide for awhile, never losing their division lead. This year, it has been a struggle.
The Dodgers are definitely a buyer at the trade deadline. Even if they were to fall out of even the wild card race, I can't see owner Frank McCourt throwing up the white flag. There needs to be at least a superficial attempt at playoff contention to keep butts in the seats at Dodger Stadium, where despite being atop the league in tickets sold in three of the last four seasons, there has been a 20% no-show rate per the Los Angeles Times.
Pitching is at the forefront of the Dodgers needs. Dodgers fifth starters this season have a 5.97 ERA in 29 starts while averaging under five innings per start, so the Dodgers will be in the market for a starter. As it stands right now, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are the only established starters under contract for 2011, so a starting pitcher under contract or control beyond this season is ideal. Roy Oswalt is in the deep end of the salary pool, too rich for the Dodgers tastes. Someone like Paul Maholm, who is signed through 2011 with an option for 2012, is the kind of pitcher they will target. Ted Lilly, whose contract is up after this season, is another option.
Starters aren't the only pitchers on the shopping list, either. The Dodger bullpen currently consists of two reliable pitchers, Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, and a series of question marks. Ronald Belisario is currently on the restricted list for what the team calls personal reasons, but no matter what the reason the Dodgers lost a valuable piece of their bullpen. Ramon Troncoso was overworked and ineffective, and George Sherrill, whom the club acquired at last year's trade deadline, has seen his production fall off the face of the Earth. Octavio Dotel is a name that comes to mind, simply because he can be packaged with Maholm, and the Dodgers are looking for a discount on shipping and handling. The Dodgers might also look north to Toronto, where Scott Downs and Jason Frasor would be a fit. The Dodgers once traded Frasor to the Blue Jays for Jayson Werth; perhaps they can attempt that again with the Phillies.
That brings us to the Dodgers' other need: an outfielder, preferably a right-handed hitting one. Manny Ramirez is currently on the disabled list for the third time this season with a calf injury. He will be out for at least three weeks, if not longer, and may not be able physically to play the field very often if at all once he gets back. Xavier Paul, who bats from the left side, figures to get the bulk of the playing time down the stretch as he auditions for the open spot next year. Reed Johnson is also on the disabled list, but is expected back in about a week, so perhaps the Dodgers will seek a bench-type upgrade rather than a starting outfielder.
The last two trade deadlines have seen the Dodgers trade catcher Carlos Santana (and pitcher Jon Meloan) for Casey Blake, and third baseman Josh Bell (and pitcher Steve Johnson) for Sherrill, so the fear is that the Dodgers will surely overpay for non-elite talent this season as well. Their top offensive prospects are shortstop Dee Gordon and outfielder Jerry Sands, and the top pitchers are Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin. Outfielder Andrew Lambo (suspended earlier this season for 50 games for a drug of abuse) and Scott Elbert (who left his Triple A club with permission after being upset about being demoted) might have normally been trade chips, but their value has plummeted for different reasons. The system is deep in pitching prospects, but many are at lower minor league levels so they may require a trade partner with patience.
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