When examining the Los Angeles Dodgers on the surface, it's difficult to find anything significantly wrong with the team.
Not only do they rank among the top of the league in runs scored and ERA while having committed the sixth-fewest errors, the Dodgers have also maintained control of the National League West for most of the season.
But no team is perfect and with the trade deadline now just a month and a half away, the Dodgers may want to consider two minor issues.
Heading into the season, the Dodgers' starting outfield consisted of Yasiel Puig in right field, rookie Joc Pederson in center field and veteran Carl Crawford in left field.
The alignment quickly got shuffled when Puig went down with a hamstring injury in mid-April, and Crawford joined him on the shelf shortly thereafter with an oblique tear.
Veteran Andre Ethier, who had been essentially relegated to bench duties ever since Puig arrived in 2013, stepped in and has put together a nice bounce-back season so far. He is slashing .287/.366/.491, and his eight home runs have already doubled his 2014 total.
Manager Don Mattingly has also been trying to mix in the capable bats of outfielders Scott Van Slyke (currently rehabbing a back injury) and Alex Guerrero. With Puig and Crawford missing most of the first two months, the issue basically resolved itself.
But Puig recently returned to the lineup, solidifying two of the three outfield spots alongside Pederson, an early front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year. The only position left up for grabs is left field, and there will be an obvious dilemma when Crawford and Van Slyke climb back into the fold to compete for playing time with Ethier and Guerrero.
The dilemma will be four outfielders for one spot. Even in a platoon strategy, that's still two right-handed hitters (Guerrero/Van Slyke) and two lefties (Crawford/Ethier) competing against each other.
While the Dodgers' president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman values depth, even he might realize the impending outfield surplus is probably untenable.
So the questions then become who to trade and for what.
Starting Rotation Depth
If there’s one area in which Los Angeles could use some future help, it’s the back end of the starting rotation.
The Dodgers lost Hyun-jin Ryu and free-agent addition Brandon McCarthy to season-ending injuries, forcing fellow newcomer Brett Anderson to slide from the No. 5 spot in the rotation to No. 3 behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
Anderson has been satisfactory, posting a 3.57 ERA in 12 starts. But the southpaw’s lengthy injury history is a constant cause for concern. As Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times points out, Anderson’s 12 June innings are more than all of his June innings combined during the past five years.
The stopgap solutions that Mattingly has thrown into the fire—right-handers Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias—have performed admirably considering their lack of experience.
Bolsinger, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason, had thrown just 52 MLB innings prior to 2015. He began the season in Triple-A but has turned in a 4-1 record with a 2.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 12 starts for the Dodgers since his promotion.
Frias entered this season even greener, with only 32 innings of prior MLB experience. But he, too, has held his own, compiling a 4-3 record and 3.86 ERA in eight starts.
Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi understand that Anderson’s next injury could be just around the corner. They also know full well that the surprising Bolsinger/Frias tandem might falter as the workload increases.
It’s why the Dodgers should consider adding a more proven arm to stabilize the back end of the rotation in case the aforementioned scenarios manifest themselves.
Los Angeles would probably like to trade away an outfielder in order to clear what will soon become a logjam. That’s easier said than done, however.
Although Ethier has re-established his trade value after two seasons with declining playing time and production, he is still owed $35.5 million through 2017—including a $17.5 million club option in 2018. Crawford and the $41.75 million he is due over the next two seasons will be nearly impossible to move, leaving Van Slyke and Guerrero as the two likeliest players to be flipped for some starting pitching.
Guerrero has become somewhat of a secret weapon for the Dodgers, slashing .282/.312/.615 with 10 home runs in limited action. While his statistics are surely attractive to other teams, the clause in his contract stipulating that he may become a free agent at the end of any season in which he is traded may hold up a potential deal.
Van Slyke possesses the cheapest contract of the bunch and is accustomed to coming off the bench. His career OPS of .805 indicates what kind of hitter the 28-year-old can be with regular playing time. Last year, he led Los Angeles in slugging percentage and OPS.
While pitchers on struggling teams like Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija will likely see their names cast into trade winds because of their contracts, the Dodgers might be interested in less-heralded hurlers come next month.
One realistic target could be Scott Kazmir of the Oakland Athletics, someone with whom the Los Angeles front office is quite familiar. Friedman worked with him in Tampa Bay, and Zaidi—formerly part of Billy Beane’s brain trust in Oakland—was instrumental in bringing him to the Bay Area.
The veteran left-hander has pitched well for the cellar-dwelling A’s, posting a 2.79 ERA in 12 starts. On the flip side, Oakland could use a player like Van Slyke to help bolster a regressing offense that currently ranks 17th in OPS. With the ability to play all three outfield positions, Van Slyke would also become an immediate offensive upgrade over current left fielder Sam Fuld.
Los Angeles will almost certainly need to include a collection of additional pitching prospects like Zach Lee, Ross Stripling or Zach Bird to facilitate this deal.
If Oakland wants Ethier—a player the A’s originally drafted—the Dodgers would need to eat a significant portion of his bloated contract, similar to the $32 million chunk they bit off this past offseason in the Matt Kemp trade.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise linked/noted.