This is not how it was supposed to happen.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers made their blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox last week, it was supposed to light a wick and send them rocketing into the stratosphere. Or at the very least, past the San Francisco Giants for first place in the NL West.
However, in the seven games the team has played since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, the new-look Dodgers have won only twice. No one in baseball—but especially the Dodgers and their fans—likely anticipated a 2-5 stretch.
As a result, the Dodgers have fallen 4.5 games behind the Giants in the NL West. They're also 1.5 games from one of the NL's wild-card playoff spots. A week ago, many were fitting the Dodgers for championship hardware. But it's now looking like a distinct possibility that this team won't even make the playoffs.
Of course, a 4.5-game deficit going into September is hardly insurmountable. Nor is a 1.5-game gap. Ask the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves about that. Well, maybe it's better to ask the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals.
It would really be better to ask the Cardinals. St. Louis set the example for successful late-season surges by overcoming a nine-game deficit to win the NL Wild Card and going on to win the World Series.
Where's the Offense?
Yet the Dodgers are hardly trending upward as September begins. Gonzalez hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat in Dodger blue, but has hit 6-for-29 overall (.207) since arriving from Boston. In his first start, Beckett allowed three runs and seven hits in less than six innings.
What about the players already on hand before the trade?
Matt Kemp has hit well since the trade, going 5-for-16 (.315), though he did miss two games after colliding with an outfield wall at Coors Field. Gonzalez batting behind him may be one reason for Kemp's recent success.
But Kemp has been in a power drought. He hasn't hit a home run since Aug. 8.
Hanley Ramirez has been at his preferred position of shortstop, yet he hit 4-for-28 (.143) with two home runs and three RBI. Shane Victorino has batted 7-for-25 (.280), but only has one triple and one RBI.
Manager Don Mattingly called a team meeting on Thursday (Aug. 30) to let his team know what was as stake. But maybe he also told his hitters to be more like Andre Ethier. The Dodgers right fielder is batting 10-for-27 (.370) since the trade with two doubles, a home run and three RBI.
What Happens Next?
So what if the Dodgers don't make the playoffs after making the biggest trade in baseball history? Where do Ned Colletti and the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group go from there?
(I love typing out "Guggenheim Baseball Management," by the way. Doesn't it sound like something you'd see on TV with a 1-800 number?
"Does your baseball team stink? How many hours do you spend suffering after another loss? Do you think you deserve better? Guggenheim Baseball Management can help you. Operators are standing by. One lucky caller might even get to speak to Magic Johnson.")
Table Setters Apply Here
With Gonzalez, Kemp, Ramirez and Ethier, the Dodgers have a strong middle of the order. But who gets on base for those guys to drive in?
Crawford will presumably be one of those batters. They need him to get on base like he did before joining the Red Sox.
Casting him as a leadoff hitter might not be the right move. Crawford has batted second for most of his career and he's done well in that role, batting .302/.345/.460 with 211 stolen bases in nearly 3,000 plate appearances. The Dodgers could definitely use some of that in their No. 2 slot.
Yet that still leaves the Dodgers without a leadoff man. Their three outfield spots are spoken, for so the Dodgers will have to find an infielder for the job.
The free-agent pickings are slim, especially for a leadoff type. But Maicer Izturis could be the guy for the job. He can play second base, shortstop or third base. And as a leadoff hitter, he has a .337 on-base percentage in 670 plate appearances.
But that's not a very bold move, and if there's one thing the Dodgers' new ownership group likes to do, it's go big and bold.
How about trading for Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve? He has a .344 OBP batting at the top of the order. At 22 years old, he makes the lineup younger and more athletic.
Plus, the Dodgers wouldn't have to worry about second base for at least four years, as Altuve has one more season to go before he becomes eligible for arbitration.
Yes, the Dodgers already have Mark Ellis. But perhaps he can be included in a trade for Altuve, providing general manager Jeff Luhnow another veteran that could be flipped for some minor league depth.
Bolster the Bench
In his recap of the Dodgers' Friday (Aug. 30) loss, ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon pointed out one of the major problems with the team's current roster. The bench stinks. There's no depth.
Mattingly has the likes of Punto, Juan Uribe, Adam Kennedy, Juan Rivera and Matt Treanor available on his bench. Those players can provide decent defensive replacements, but they're hardly solid pinch-hitting options.
This is an area Colletti has to improve for next season, and it shouldn't take too much money for him to do so. Not that money is really a consideration for the Dodgers any more.
More Pitching, Please
Chad Billingsley may be done for the season after going on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. He took an injection of platelet-rich plasma in his right elbow in hopes of speeding up the healing process, but it's a strong possibility that he won't be available through September.
The worst fear is that Billingsley's elbow may be in danger of needing Tommy John surgery, which would obviously sideline him for the 2013 season.
The Dodgers were already short-handed in the starting rotation with Ted Lilly nursing a shoulder injury. Getting Beckett brought in a much-needed arm for the starting staff, but Colletti was still looking for pitching help before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. The team will have to bring in another arm or two for next season.
Could that be Zack Greinke? The Dodgers should certainly be able to offer him enough money to beat out the competition. Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy and Anibal Sanchez are other, lower-cost possibilities.
However, Colletti also has to address his bullpen. Kenley Jensen's irregular heartbeat is a major concern, but even if he is shut down for the rest of this season, his condition should be treatable through the winter and make him available for next year.
Will the Dodgers bring back Brandon League? Could they take a chance on Ryan Madson or chase another high-profile closer like Brett Myers or Jose Valverde?
Signing middle relievers to add depth would probably be the smarter way to go.
Mike Adams would be excellent for a setup role and could also be an option at closer, if needed. Jason Grilli and Juan Cruz have pitched well for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. Perhaps the Dodgers take a shot at either of them repeating that success. Other options include Joel Peralta, Francisco Rodriguez and Jon Rauch. Colletti will be able to find arms.
The Dodgers could still go on to make the playoffs, win the World Series and render all of these suggestions unnecessary.
But Colletti and team president Stan Kasten have to build an actual team during the offseason, not just chase the biggest names and worry about where they might fit on the roster later. If there ends up being one consequence of failing to make the playoffs, that will be it. The Dodgers have to establish an actual philosophy for assembling a roster and organization.
The money is a huge help, but a plan would help much more.
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