Los Angeles ranks 22nd in the majors in runs scored and has been shut out in four of its last five games, including all three in a sweep by the Giants at AT&T Park earlier this week. That was enough to drop the Dodgers out of first place in the National League West for the first time since April 10.
Now, with the trade deadline approaching, the Dodgers have made an offer for Astros first baseman Carlos Lee, with the slugger needing to decide whether he wants to waive his partial no-trade clause and move to L.A., according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. But will Lee solve the Dodgers' offensive woes?
The Dodgers surprised everyone by jumping out to the majors' best record after two months on the strength of a rotation bolstered by reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and a resurgent Chris Capuano. But Los Angeles' best hitter, Matt Kemp, has already missed 42 games this season and is likely sidelined until at least the All-Star break.
The Dodgers have missed Kemp's production dearly. Lee would address one of the team's problem areas — first base — where incumbent James Loney has underperformed, hitting just .236 with a .303 on-base percentage. Loney also has very little power, with a career single-season high of just 15 home runs. He's hit just two this season, tied for 36th among major league first basemen. Lee has hit five in 2012, below his career average, but his other numbers (.290 BA, .342 OBP) show that he would be a clear upgrade over the slumping Loney.
At 36, Lee is no longer in his prime, but while he's never been known as a great defensive first baseman, he does have the ability to play the outfield as well. Lee's contract is up at the end of the season, though, and the Dodgers are smart to move on him now, because he'd be an appealing option for another club in need of offense. The Dodgers have gotten a big year from their pitching staff, whose 3.34 team ERA ranks second in MLB. But with inconsistent starters Aaron Harang and Capuano, there's no guarantee that the pitching performance will carry over to next season, so general manager Ned Colletti should move for Lee while the team is still in contention.
Still, it will take more than the addition of Lee for L.A. to move past pitching-rich San Francisco in the NL West. Two Dodgers regulars, shortstop Dee Gordon and third baseman Juan Uribe, rank among the worst hitters in the majors at their positions. Gordon, who bats leadoff for the Dodgers, is hitting .225 with a .276 OBP, while Uribe is even worse at .208 with a .252 OBP. If Los Angeles doesn't upgrade at least one of those positions at the trade deadline, it's going to continue to have trouble scoring runs.
One possible solution could be Lee's teammate, former Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie. Lowrie traditionally plays up the middle but has also seen extended time at third base, and he's been hitting now that he's finally healthy for an entire season (so far). Lowrie's .349 OBP, .490 slugging percentage and 14 home runs would be appealing to the Dodgers, but they may have to surrender a lot to the Astros if they want to receive both Lowrie and Lee.
If the Dodgers can somehow land both Lee and another bat — be it Lowrie or another infielder — they'll have everything they need to contend in October. But if they come up short in their efforts to land another hitter, their lack of offense at a few key positions could come back to bite them down the stretch.