Matt Kemp's return and tons of trade talk bring sunshine to a dour Dodgers' situation

Tim Brown

Los Angeles awoke Friday morning to something a bit unusual; puddles where its sunshine was supposed to be, and Matt Kemp expected in the lineup.

Baseball's reigning "it" guy, Kemp has five plate appearances since May 13, hasn't homered since April 30, and otherwise has spent the first half of his first season under an eight-year, $160 million contract in the dugout.

Though the bad hamstring benched him for the better part of two months, and from homering in 2½ months (other than the one he hit in the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby), Kemp returns as the Dodgers' leader in home runs (12) and runner-up in RBIs (28).

He also returns with a pretty nifty triple-slash of .355/.444/.719 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) over the 36 games he was healthy enough to play. And while his dreams of a 50-homer, 50-stolen base season are shot, the Dodgers have kept one 50-50 alive. That is, if they must lean so heavily on Kemp and Andre Ethier for their offense, those would be about the odds of them winning the NL West.

[Also: MLB power rankings: Yanks rise as Boston looks ahead to football season]

The non-waiver trading deadline, as you've no doubt heard, is in 2½ weeks. Under normal circumstances this time of year, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has never been shy. The current climate – new owner, new cash, a half-game division lead (down from 7½), and some serious shortcomings on the infield corners, the starting rotation and the bullpen – make the Dodgers among the more interesting clubs leading to July 31.

Colletti is chasing pitching in Chicago (Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza), in Houston (Brett Myers), in Milwaukee (Zack Greinke), in Seattle (Jason Vargas) and in Philadelphia (Cole Hamels). He's plumbed San Diego for outfielder Carlos Quentin and third baseman Chase Headley, and would love to engage the Milwaukee Brewers on third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who is in the first season of a three-year, $36 million contract.

All things considered, the Dodgers were a reasonable offensive team for two months. They have been terrible since, and in fact the worst in the National League, batting .212 in June and .237 in July. It is there – in a replacement for Juan Uribe (batting .194), for James Loney (two home runs) – where the deadline could have the greatest impact. In the NL, only the Miami Marlins have a worse slugging percentage at first base and only the Philadelphia Phillies have gotten less from third base.

The Dodgers don't believe the Cubs' Bryan LaHair (two home runs in a month, .073 all season against lefties) would be the solution at first. And they do believe the San Diego Padres would require a big take to move Headley within the division. That brings us back to Ramirez, or perhaps Ty Wigginton if the Phillies get into sell mode, or perhaps Adam Lind, and then perhaps a looser market if another team or two fall back before the deadline.

That doesn't leave much wriggle room. But, if nothing else, the day started better for the Dodgers than most of the last 60: Matt Kemp went to the park expecting to play.

Notes: Tim Lincecum's leash is getting shorter. In San Francisco, Giants general manager Brian Sabean told radio station KNBR the club would evaluate Lincecum's Saturday night start against the Houston Astros and, depending on the results, consider skipping Lincecum's next start. To me, Lincecum looks like he's caught between chasing his lost velocity and learning to pitch without it. His last two starts going into the break – in Washington and Pittsburgh – were a wreck, contributing to a Giants' slump that saw them lose seven of nine. … It's getting real in Washington, where Stephen Strasburg told MLB National Radio, "They're going to have to rip the ball out of my hands." The Nats seem resolute on limiting Strasburg's season, reportedly in the 160-inning range. Played out, Strasburg would make his final start sometime in early September. … Five hours from Friday's deadline, the Pirates hadn't signed first-round pick Mark Appel, and negotiations didn't look promising. … We could be in a swing period in the AL West: The Angels come out of the break with three games in New York and four in Detroit, then play seven games in 13 days against the Texas Rangers. The Rangers open with five games in Seattle and Oakland. That might not sound difficult, but the Rangers have split 20 games against those teams and have been outscored, 101-77, in them.

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