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The Dodgers need a full, useable bench

Why LA needs to add a bat at the trade deadline

Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks
Getting Edwin Ríos back from the injured list will greatly help the Dodgers depth. But they should also augment the roster by adding a hitter at the trade deadline.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The eighth inning proved decisive for the Dodgers for a second straight night on Friday, but it also showed the very limited options the team currently has, or at least is willing to use. It remains clear the Dodgers need to add another bat at the trade deadline.

Justin Turner was unavailable on Friday after leaving Thursday’s game with abdominal tightness. His absence was felt in the bottom of the eighth, but not necessarily how you might think. Before the fateful swing, with two outs and runners on the corners, Jake Lamb came to bat against Giants southpaw Sammy Long.

This was just the second time Lamb batted against a left-hander since joining the Dodgers on June 28. The veteran Lamb hit just fine against same-handed pitchers in Triple-A this season — .400/.488/.714 with three home runs in 42 plate appearances — but generally avoiding left-handers is how the Dodgers have used him in his 20 games in the majors.

Lamb was hit by Long’s first pitch, loading the bases. That brought up Cody Bellinger, who fell behind 0-2, prompting me to tweet this:

One hanging curveball later, Long, the Giants, and I took an L. It happens.

But my point still stands.

Even with the home run, Bellinger is hitting .196/.239/.314 in 109 plate appearances this year against left-handed pitchers. Among the 284 major league hitters with at least 50 PA against southpaws this season, Bellinger’s 56 wRC+ against them ranks tied for 244th.

On Friday, Dave Roberts’ options were limited. Turner was unavailable. The only right-handed batters on the bench were catcher Austin Barnes and infielder Hanser Alberto. Considering Lamb was Long’s sixth batter, the Giants almost certainly would have brought in a right-hander to face them, changing the calculus.

Which is why the Dodgers need better options at the ready.

Let’s look at the right-handed hitters profiled by Estevão Maximo as potential LA trade deadline targets, to name a few:

  • Reds infielder Brandon Drury is hitting .257/.328/.461, a 116 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this season
  • Reds outfielder Tommy Pham is hitting .237/.320/.371, a 91 wRC+ against righties

Either facing a right-hander would have been better than Bellinger facing a left-hander (.196/.239/.314, 59 wRC+), on average.

Bellinger’s excellent defense is an argument for him staying in a close game, especially late, which is a worthy argument since he’s very good out there. It’s the main thing keeping him in the lineup. But you need to score to win, and the Dodgers could have easily shifted Trayce Thompson to center and, depending on the other hypothetical choice, put Gavin Lux in left field and brought in a new second baseman, likely Alberto.

The move worked out for the Dodgers. That’s great. It doesn’t mean they have to force themselves into those situations.

One might argue that Miguel Vargas deserves a call-up, and could take some of these right-handed at-bats. I don’t necessarily disagree, but even leaving aside the pressure of putting a rookie in that position, they could still call Vargas up after adding another bat, if needed. The more, the merrier.

You might notice I left someone off of the bench above. Part of that is because Zach McKinstry is a left-handed batter and certainly wouldn’t nor shouldn’t have pinch-hit for Lamb nor Bellinger. But I’m starting to wonder when the Dodgers might use McKinstry at all.

McKinstry has been active for the last 12 games, and has only been used twice and batted once. All season, McKinstry has appeared in only eight of the 32 games for which he was active, starting once. He’s batted eight times. The forgotten man.

Even Eddy Alvarez started nine of the 26 games he was active, and batted 27 times, including playing out of position in five outfield starts. That was with Mookie Betts and Chris Taylor hurt, the glaring red siren that signaled the Dodgers desperately needed outfield help. Enter Trayce Thompson and Lamb, who have provided great depth so far in what has essentially been a time share between the two for one starting spot.

Since June 20, rosters were reduced to no more than 13 pitchers, which meant 13 position players, and a four-player bench. The Dodgers at the moment are essentially playing with 12 position players, given how they’ve used them.

Taylor is still hurt, his return timing still up in the air. Edwin Ríos can’t return until August 2 at the earliest. If both come back healthy, and the Dodgers do nothing else, they’d have a full bench. But Turner’s current injury, albeit presumably only for the short term, is another reminder that “at full strength” is often an unrealistic ideal.

Even if the Dodgers do return to “full strength,” there are still two-plus months of baseball to be played, and thinking no other Dodgers will get hurt down the stretch is foolish. An extra bat would definitely help.

A caveat is of course needed, in that the Dodgers have won more than two-thirds of their games with a 10½-game lead in the division, and an 12-game lead over the No. 3-seed Brewers, angling for a first-round bye. Los Angeles leads the National League in run scoring by a wide margin. They are doing just fine as is, and are absolutely going to make the postseason. But it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to upgrade, even incrementally.

Steven Souza Jr., Andy Burns, Billy McKinney, and Luke Raley combined for 13 playoff plate appearances last year. Avoiding a repeat of that is greatly preferred.

Adding a player the Dodgers would actually use in a game would work, even if it’s just so Roberts doesn’t feel compelled to start Max Muncy 31 times in the 36 games since his return from the injured list, even though Muncy is hitting .161/.292/.357, an 88 wRC+, during that time.

Better options are always welcome.

It’s why I think the Dodgers absolutely have to add a hitter, and the sooner the better.