Dodgers need offensive upgrade, but the solution isn’t obvious

We’ve written a lot here about the Dodgers’ struggling offense. Some were concerned about it in the winter, some were not. But now that we’re 55 games into the season and the numbers are down substantially, it’s only natural to think about some upgrades.

Problem is, the Dodgers don’t have a lot of open and/or easily upgradable positions. Justin Turner, Howie Kendrick, Yasiel Puig and Yasmani Grandal are the biggest culprits when it comes to the Dodgers’ offensive struggles. And while Adrian Gonzalez has solid 117 wRC+, his power is way down. In 2015, he had a .205 ISO (great), but in 2016, it’s down to .120 (below-average). He’s also benefiting from a .365 BABIP, while his career BABIP is .319 and it hasn’t been as high as .365 since it was .380 in 2011.

MLB Trade Rumors posted its top 10 trade candidates on Tuesday. I’d tell you who’s on the list, but I don’t know how to use that site. I kid.

Of the 10, five are pitchers (three starters, two relievers), two are outfielders and one is a first baseman. That leaves one catcher and one third baseman. Those players are Jonathan Lucroy and Trevor Plouffe. We can pretty much exclude Plouffe and his 71 wRC+ because that isn’t even close being an improvement on Turner’s 85 wRC+ (and his defense is considerably better, too).

Lucroy is an interesting player. He first broke out in 2012 by hitting .320/.368/.513 with a 135 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR in just 96 games. His best season was 2014, when he hit .301/.373/.465 with a 132 wRC+ and a 6.1 WAR (8th-best in baseball). But he had a down season in 2015 with a 93 wRC+, which isn’t bad for a catcher, but not the level of production Lucroy had been known for.

“But Dustin, the Dodgers don’t need another catcher.”

On the surface, yeah, the Dodgers don’t need another catcher. But what if they do?

Grandal’s struggles have been painful this season and A.J. Ellis‘ best offensive days are well behind him. Austin Barnes has some great offensive potential, but he’s struck behind the two veterans.

Here’s how the Dodger catchers have fared offensively so far this season (MLB rank in parenthesis):

  • .192 BA (25th)
  • .295 OBP (16th)
  • .315 SLG (21st)
  • .123 ISO (17th)
  • 9.8 HR/FB% (14th)
  • .274 wOBA (19th)
  • 72 wRC+ (20th)

It’s pretty bad. Lucroy’s addition would undoubtedly improve all those categories.

But he wouldn’t come cheaply, especially since Lucroy is signed to an extremely team-friendly deal. He has a $5.2 million option for next season that would be picked up even if he were performing like he did last season, so the acquiring team would get Lucroy for a season-and-a-half. Premium offensive (and defensive) catchers do not come without giving up talent.

The Brewers are going nowhere and aren’t going to keep Lucroy after 2017, so they’ll probably be inclined to move him for a big return. It probably wouldn’t cost a guy like Julio Urias, but the Brewers could be interested in guys like Cody Bellinger, Jose De Leon, Grant Holmes and/or Alex Verdugo (plus others, I’m sure).

Another big name going around as being available in a trade is Ryan Braun. While having a bat like his would be nice, there are so many negatives that come with acquiring him (at least for the Dodgers).

  1. He’s an outfielder, and the Dodgers have approximately 95 outfielders
  2. He’s due at least $76 million for the next four years, plus the remainder of his $19 million salary for 2016
  3. He’s sure to decline entering his age-33 through age-36 seasons
  4. Not as durable as he used to be

That’s just a few. The biggest being position and contract/age. If he were 26 years old, sure, he could be a viable trade target. But Braun wouldn’t be a prudent move for the Dodgers in the long-term. He isn’t the 7-win player he was back in 2011 and 2012.

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There are sure to be more names available as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approaches — some we might not even realize at this point. Conversely, some guys who might be available now might not be in the next 6-8 weeks.

If the Dodgers do figure out a way to upgrade the offense (any future potential injuries notwithstanding), catcher and third base seem most likely. Every other position seems set, for better or worse, unless the front office gets creative with the outfielders. There are probably fewer quality third basemen who will be available than catchers, as crazy as it sounds. That is, as long as Lucroy remains available.

Scott Van Slyke is due back as early as today, Andre Ethier is behind schedule and Barnes is still toiling in Triple-A. Van Slyke should get his fair share of playing time, while Barnes is stuck behind a ton of vets at multiple positions on the depth chart. Other than those three, there aren’t another other players on the way at some point who can help this 2016 team substantially. Trayce Thompson has already been a hit, but Micah Johnson hasn’t been nearly as successful in Triple-A. And before you ask, no, Bellinger is not coming up in 2016. Period.

The simplest solution is for the veterans to play up to their capabilities. But the Dodgers can’t wait until September for that to happen, especially since there’s no guarantee it will happen. Having said that, they won’t make a panic move and any offensive help likely won’t come for another 4-6 weeks at the earliest.

One thing’s for sure: The offense needs to improve one way or another or it’s going to be a shorter season than most Dodger fans were expecting.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.