Dodgers deadline plans: How a top-heavy lineup could be bolstered this month

Almost every day, the top half of the Dodgers batting order looks exactly the same.

Mookie Betts, when healthy, providing a spark from the leadoff spot.

Shohei Ohtani producing MVP-caliber numbers as the designated hitter behind him.

Three more All-Star hitters from there in Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Teoscar Hernández.

Together, they have formed the most potent quintuplet in the majors this year. Combined, the club’s .284 batting average and .881 OPS from the Nos. 1-5 spots in the order are easily the best among any MLB team.

However, with the league’s July 30 trade deadline less than three weeks away, the bottom half of the Dodgers’ lineup continues to generate concern — and has emerged as a source of speculation surrounding the team’s potential deadline plans.

From the Nos. 6-9 spots, the Dodgers rank in the bottom third of the majors in batting average (.216) and OPS (.625). They regularly use platoons at as many as three positions, but have still struggled to find much bottom-half consistency.

It hasn’t stopped the club from building a commanding lead in the National League West. It hasn’t prevented them from, on the whole, being a premier offensive force, entering Wednesday with more runs scored than any other NL club.

But the top-heavy nature of the lineup has sparked plenty of brainstorming in the Dodgers’ front office.

The team’s most important need might still be another front-line pitcher; another top arm to join Tyler Glasnow (when he returns from the injured list after the All-Star break) and Gavin Stone at the top of the rotation.

But with deadline pickings looking slim on the mound, there are myriad ways the team can bolster its lineup for a forthcoming postseason run, too.

“The organization,” manager Dave Roberts said last week, “is always looking to upgrade.”

The Dodgers’ preference would be to acquire more consistent everyday hitters, and be less reliant upon matchup-based platoons that can often be exploited by playoff-caliber pitching.

The eventual return of third baseman Max Muncy offers one de facto second-half addition, with the club remaining confident Muncy will recover from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since mid-May.

However, after this much time away from the field, Muncy’s performance upon returning continues to grow as a variable.

“The longer he’s out, the harder it is,” Roberts said.

Has it reached a point where it could impact the Dodgers’ deadline plans?

“We’re still counting on him,” Roberts said. But, the manager added, “we’re looking to upgrade in different spots.”

That’s why, even at this relatively early juncture, the Dodgers have started canvassing for potential big-name moves.

The team has had interest in outfielders Luis Robert Jr. of the Chicago White Sox and Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. On a trade market lacking much obvious star power, those two could be among the splashier targets potentially moved this month.

However, there would be hurdles to completing either deal — impediments that could make acquiring one of them, or any impact hitter for that matter, difficult for the Dodgers to complete this month.

First and foremost, neither Robert (under contract through 2025, with club options in 2026 and 2027) nor Arozarena (team control through 2026) are rental players, which means acquiring them now could come at a steep cost.

Neither is having their best season individually, either. Robert has been limited to just 38 games this year because of a hip injury and is batting a career-low .224, though his .791 OPS is well above league average. Arozarena has heated up in recent weeks, but is still batting just .201 overall after a dreadful start to the season.

Those factors could complicate any negotiations. While the Dodgers’ highly-touted farm system possesses the prospect capital to potentially swing such a deal, the club could be reluctant to overpay for what it already deems to be inflated deadline prices. On what figures to be a seller’s market, there will be limits for how much they’re willing to part with.

And that dynamic could apply to other top trade options, too, such as Jazz Chisholm Jr. of the Miami Marlins (the other top outfielder that could be on the block this month) or Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays (the best shortstop that could be moved before July 30).

It means, in an equally likely scenario, the Dodgers could approach this deadline similar to last year, when they bypassed any blockbuster deals in favor of more marginal lineup additions.

If the club goes the latter route, it will make the next three weeks vital for role players currently on the team, turning the rest of the month into a final evaluation period for the team to determine its exact needs.

To this point, only two typical bottom-half hitters have an OPS of .700 or higher: Miguel Rojas, who has taken over as the everyday shortstop since Betts’ hand fracture, and Andy Pages, the rookie slugger who has emerged as the team’s primary option in center field.

Everybody else in the bottom half of the order has been a liability at times. Gavin Lux has struggled at second base in his return from last year’s knee injury. Jason Heyward has been hot and cold, and on the injured list twice.

Utility players Kiké Hernández, Chris Taylor and Cavan Biggio have all also underperformed, with OPS below .600.

And though the recently-recalled Miguel Vargas has been good in flashes, he is still playing on a part-time basis.

It means the Dodgers could benefit from another veteran outfield bat, with names like Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier and Mark Canha all expected to be available before the deadline. They might need a more consistent utility option, where players like Luis Rengifo and Amed Rosario could be a fit.

For now, the Dodgers aren’t rushing into any of those types of moves. They still have time to determine exactly where their roster should be reinforced.

“Every night that these guys are getting opportunities, they have a chance to make an impression,” Roberts said of his current bottom-half group. “[They can] kind of change the way the organization views what might be a position of need. That’s the job.”

Still, just like with the pitching staff, the team would like to strengthen its lineup before the July 30 deadline. And with less than three weeks to go until the deadline, they are keeping all options — big and small — seemingly open; still trying to decide which avenues for potential improvement will make the most sense for them to explore.

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