- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers lost out in the race to land Cliff Lee, the coveted veteran left-hander whom the Seattle Mariners traded to the Texas Rangers in a six-player deal on Friday. But apparently, it wasn't for lack of effort.
A source with knowledge of the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Dodgers and Mariners were heavily engaged in talks centered on Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland. The source said the Mariners were asking the Dodgers for one of two things in return for Lee: either a major league-ready first baseman, which they got from the Rangers in Justin Smoak; or a package that would include Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley and multiple minor league prospects.
The Dodgers weren't willing to bite on either of those proposals. They weren't going to trade James Loney, their durable first baseman, who has started all but four games at the position this season, is batting .307 and leads the club in doubles (24) and RBI (58). And the Dodgers would have been hard-pressed to trade Billingsley, one of their most reliable starting pitchers and one who is under club control through the 2012 season, for Lee, who is eligible for free agency in the fall.
The source also said the Dodgers counter-proposed several scenarios, one or the other of which included every valued prospect in the Dodgers' minor league system save one, which the source declined to identify. Common sense suggests that lone untouchable prospect probably was Double-A Chattanooga shortstop Dee Gordon, widely considered to be the Dodgers' top prospect.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, meanwhile, said his team's needs as the July 31 trading deadline approaches haven't changed based either on Lee's sudden unavailability or on the fact that key reliever Ronald Belisario has been placed on the restricted list for undisclosed personal reasons with no hint as to how long he will be out.
"We're still looking to add pitching, either (a starter or reliever)," Colletti said. "We're getting to a point in the season where if there is an opportunity to improve our club in any way, shape or form, even if it's in a small way, we have to take a look at it. And pitching is always the area in which you're most vulnerable."
The Dodgers' starting rotation appears to have stabilized for the first time this season with Billingsley and left-hander Clayton Kershaw having taken major steps forward, with right-hander Hiroki Kuroda having been somewhat consistent, with rookie John Ely having arrived ahead of schedule and with veteran Vicente Padilla now healthy and pitching well. That would seem to have created a situation in which the Dodgers are less desperate to add a starter than they were, say, at the start of the season.
"This is the first time we have really had a chance to see the five as one piece," Colletti said. "Padilla missed a lot of time, and Billingsley missed a little bit of time. At least it gives us a clearer view of what it looks like."
Meanwhile, Belisario's sudden, unexplained absence leaves a hole in the bullpen, but the Dodgers do have organizational depth when it comes to relief pitching. Talented prospect Kenley Jansen, who has a 1.17 ERA in 18 appearances since being promoted to Chattanooga; recently signed former big leaguer Jack Taschner, who has a 5.06 ERA in five appearances for Triple-A Albuquerque; and longtime Dodgers prospect and former big leaguer James McDonald, who has given up four runs on seven hits over 10 2/3 innings of two starts for Albuquerque since being activated from the minor league disabled list; all would be viable options for the Dodgers if one of their current relievers falters or goes down to an injury.
Although there still was no information available on Belisario or the reason for his absence, Paul Kinzer, the pitcher's Atlanta-based agent, was spotted with Colletti at Dodger Stadium before Friday night's game with the Chicago Cubs.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said his planned rotational alignment for the start of the second half, which begins on Thursday night at St. Louis, is Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda, Padilla and Ely. That means Kuroda, who made his final first-half start on Wednesday night against Florida, will have nine days between starts but presumably would be available for a short stint out of the bullpen this weekend. Ely, who is scheduled to start on Saturday against the Cubs, will have eight days between starts.
Who's in left?
Torre said Xavier Paul -- who stands a good chance of being sent back to Albuquerque when Manny Ramirez returns from the disabled list for the second-half opener -- will be the Dodgers' everday left fielder for the rest of the first half, which ends on Sunday. Reed Johnson, who was expected to share time at that spot with Paul, is day to day with back discomfort and wasn't available at all on Friday night.
"We don't think it's anything more than a few days,'' Torre said.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com
8mAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com