As the Dodgers remained in free fall, James Loney’s future was in limbo.
Loney didn’t play in the Dodgers’ fifth shutout defeat in six games, this one 5-0 against the New York Mets on Saturday that extended the team’s season-worst losing streak to seven games.
Loney’s fate was at the mercy of Carlos Lee of the Houston Astros, who was deciding whether he would accept a trade to the Dodgers. Lee and Loney are first basemen and if Lee agrees to the deal, Loney will probably go from being a part-time player to a rarely used one on the Dodgers bench.
“I’m not going to talk about it until it happens,” said Loney, who is hitless in his last 25 at-bats and has started only twice in six games.
Lee told reporters in Chicago that he met with Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who informed him the Dodgers had made a trade offer for him. The proposed trade could include Dodgers pitching prospect Garrett Gould and would offer financial relief for the Astros, who still owe Lee about half of his $18.5-million salary.
But as part of the no-trade provision in his contract, Lee can veto trades to 14 teams. The Dodgers are on that list.
Lee, who owns a ranch in Houston, said he planned to talk to his wife Saturday night.
“I’ll probably by tomorrow let you know because I don’t want to go through this,” Lee told the Houston Chronicle.
Lee is 36 and on the downside of his career. He is batting .285 with five home runs and 29 runs batted in. Lee has hit one home run and driven in nine runs over his last 24 games.
But the Dodgers have lost 11 of their last 12 games. They haven’t led a game in their last 61 innings. And Matt Kemp isn’t expected back until July 13, the day the Dodgers come out of the All-Star break.
Facing Johan Santana on Saturday, they were held to one hit over the first seven innings, and that hit came on their first at-bat of the game, by Dee Gordon.
The offense has looked so hopeless that Manager Don Mattingly was at a loss for words.
“Umm .. kind of just … yeah, I don’t have a lot of answers,” Mattingly said. “Some really tough days right now.”
The Dodgers’ interest in Lee signifies management has given up on Loney, who is hitting .236 with two home runs and 21 RBIs.
The team’s first-round pick in 2002, Loney broke into the majors four years later to great expectations. He was widely considered the most advanced hitter in a group that included future All-Stars Kemp and Andre Ethier.
But Loney has never hit more than the 15 home runs he hit as a rookie and has regressed as a hitter over the last two seasons.
His career is at a crossroads. Then again, as Loney pointed out, “It’s always something.”
Asked whether he feared he might not be able to find work next season, Loney replied, “I’m a .288 career average hitter before this year. So if I have good at-bats the rest of the year, I should be good.”
If he faced the prospect of playing only once or twice a week, would he prefer to be traded?
“Obviously, you want to play every day,” Loney said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”