Dodgers mull their trade possibilities

LOS ANGELES -- With more than six weeks left before baseball's non-waiver trading deadline and the Los Angeles Dodgers appearing to be in free fall, general manager Ned Colletti was asked this week if there was a threshold that would determine whether his club would be a buyer or a seller on July 31.

"Right now, we just need to play better, obviously, and we need to get healthy, and we need to see better results," he said. "I have never been one to be in sell mode. I struggle with being in sell mode. It would take a lot to get me there."

It is a place the Dodgers haven't been in recent memory, and never during Colletti's tenure. There have been losing seasons here and there, but even on those occasions, the Dodgers were still hanging around at the deadline, giving themselves just enough reason to believe it was worth adding a veteran player for a playoff push instead of adding several younger ones for the future. Playing in the National League West, in which no one ever seems to be eliminated, has contributed to that as well.

This year could be different, of course. But for now, the Dodgers are a long way from being eliminated despite the 31-39 record they were left with after a three-game sweep by the Cincinnati Reds, which was completed with a 7-2 loss Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. And for now, Colletti has every intention of giving his club every opportunity to compete -- although that plan could be derailed by a lot of other factors, too.

The big one is ownership. By the time the trading deadline comes, the Dodgers might well be run by Major League Baseball, if Frank McCourt fails to meet his June 30 payroll obligations. Even before that happens, the Dodgers aren't expected to have more than $1.5 million-$2 million left to play with at the deadline under their original player-payroll budget, and although McCourt historically has been flexible in that area when the right deal has presented itself, the commissioner's office isn't likely to follow suit.

If Colletti does make an addition or two, expect it to be in the form of pitching, and maybe an outfielder to play left field every day so the Dodgers can finally scrap this left-fielder-by-committee arrangement that never really has worked very well.

"You're always looking for pitching as you go along," Colletti said. "I don't think you ever shut the door on your pitching staff, and ours is banged up, especially the bullpen. And obviously left field, you would love to come to a conclusion there too."

Last year, the Dodgers bolstered their starting rotation and, they thought at the time, their lineup by acquiring veteran left-hander Ted Lilly and second baseman Ryan Theriot from the Chicago Cubs. A year later, Lilly is a mainstay in what was supposed to be a stacked rotation, and Theriot is gone. If right-hander Jon Garland can return from the disabled list before the deadline, which is far from a sure thing, the Dodgers would be free to focus more on strengthening their bullpen, although any thought of landing an established closer is probably a pipe dream given their financial constraints.

Colletti said the preferred scenario would be Garland coming back and rookie Rubby De La Rosa going to the bullpen, even though he is viewed as a starter long-term. The pen already has four relievers on the DL, one of whom, Vicente Padilla, isn't expected back. Every indication is that the other three, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen, all will be back before the All-Star break.

Still, with three rookies already in the pen -- four when Jansen comes back -- an experienced reliever is almost certainly on Colletti's wish list.

Colletti said it's much the same with the bench, where he has added key players at the deadline in certain past years -- if and when Rafael Furcal comes off the DL, the bench should get deeper automatically by the fact Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles will be on it every night instead of in the starting lineup.

"If we're able to get Raffy back at the top of our lineup, suddenly, at least on the infield, we have a lot of depth," Colletti said. "I think our bench is fine. It's when your bench starts being utilized [in the starting lineup] every day, that is when you have to address your bench."

For the moment, the Dodgers appear down and out, and their clubhouse following Wednesday's loss was as funereal as it has been all season. But again, this is the NL West, and this team still has 92 games remaining, almost half of them (45) against division rivals -- although the Dodgers won't see an NL West rival again until July 6, so it is imperative they tread as much water as they can until then.

Still, with the trading deadline 46 days out, the Dodgers are a long way from being out of this thing.

"We continue to compete, which is obviously important to me and everybody else,'' said Colletti, who cited as an example a recent road trip on which the Dodgers went 5-5, with all five losses by either a one- or two-run margin. "We could have gone 8-2 on that trip, which is encouraging but frustrating all at the same time. If we put a little streak together, we have a chance to do something."

And if that happens, Colletti might have a reason to do something in a few weeks, as well.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.