Salary Arbitration Eligible Dodgers: Andre Ethier

It is very likely that Andre Ethier will be the highest paid Dodger in 2012.

The Dodgers entered the offseason with seven players eligible for salary arbitration. These players, with between three and six years of MLB service time, has been whittled down to three through a series of transactions. The Dodgers locked up Matt Kemp for eight years and $160 million back in November, traded Dana Eveland to the Baltimore Orioles for a pair of minor leaguers, signed Tony Gwynn Jr. to a two-year, $2 million contract, and did not tender a contract to Hong-Chih Kuo.

That leaves three Dodgers eligible for salary arbitration: Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Clayton Kershaw.

On Wednesday, January 18, salary figures will be exchanged, assuming both sides haven't worked out a deal by then. If the Dodgers and the player in question can't agree on a contract, both sides will submit one salary figure and prepare for an arbitration hearing that will be scheduled at some point between February 1-21. The two sides can continue to negotiate up to the hearing itself, and that is often what happens.

The Dodgers haven't gone to a hearing with any of their arbitration-eligible players since 2007 with Joe Beimel. In a hearing, both sides argue their case for their salary figure to a three-person panel, and the panel will ultimately decide one side or the other. Ethier and the Dodgers had a arbitration hearing scheduled in February 2009, but the two sides worked out a contract just minutes before the scheduled hearing was to begin.

For the most part, the arbitration system is all about trying to find comparable players, either via service time, position, or performance. We begin our look at the 2012 arbitration-eligible Dodgers with Ethier, who has one year before being eligible for free agency.

Ethier has five years, 153 days of service time. This is actually his fourth time being eligible for salary arbitration, as he was a "Super Two" after 2008, meaning he was in the top 17% in service time of players who had at least two years but not quite three years of service time. Ethier made $9.25 million last year in the second season of a two-year, $15.25 million contract signed before the 2010 season.

In many ways, Ethier had a disappointing year in 2011. He wasn't necessarily bad, as he hit .292/.368/.421, a 120 OPS+. But his power was gone as he hit just 11 home runs, though he did hit 30 doubles, a mark he has reached for five consecutive seasons. Ethier was limited to just 135 games as he had his season cut short by a knee injury that ultimately required surgery in September.

Some of the players comparable to Ethier are a tough sell, as they all signed long-term contracts between two and four years before the comparable point in their careers:

Player Thru Svc Time G PA 2B HR Runs RBI BA/OBP/SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR fWAR Salaryn-1 Salaryn % Inc.
Andre Ethier 2011 5.153 854 3363 195 109 420 446 .291/.364/.479 .843 123 11.8 15.8 $9,250 ??? ???
Curtis Granderson 2010 5.077 810 3424 142 126 511 366 .268/.341/.481 .822 113 21.9 23.7 $5,500 $8,250 50.0%
Nick Markakis 2010 5.000 786 3369 206 89 448 422 .298/.368/.463 .831 119 17.8 17.9 $6,750 $10,250 51.9%
David DeJesus 2009 5.146 785 3405 164 56 455 353 .286/.358/.425 .782 106 18.7 14.2 $3,600 $4,700 30.6%
Brad Hawpe 2009 5.058 728 2807 145 111 348 427 .283/.377/.498 .875 118 2.6 4.9 $5,500 $7,500 36.4%
Nick Swisher 2009 5.031 761 3119 152 133 437 406 .245/.357/.460 .818 114 11.5 14.3 $5,300 $6,750 27.4%
Jason Bay 2008 5.080 771 3259 164 149 476 491 .282/.375/.516 .891 131 12.6 17.0 $5,750 $7,500 30.4%

Ethier's career numbers compare favorably to all six of these players, though it is difficult to compare apples to apples as these players all signed long-term extensions all with some sort of risk discount built in. But we can look at the percentage increase in salary between year five and year six to give us at least a loose baseline of comparison. Just to note, a 27.4% raise on Ethier's $9.25 million is roughly $11.78 million while a 51.9% raise would be about $14.05 million.

Ideally, we should find some players at or near Ethier's service time who actually went year-to-year. I'm using percentage increase from year to year for Ethier because he was a Super Two in 2009, which started his larger paydays earlier than some of his contemporaries, and bumped the salaries his subsequent years of arbitration eligibility, relative to his peers with slightly less service time.

Here are three relatively comparable outfielders who were eligible for arbitration last year:

Player Thru Svc Time G PA 2B HR Runs RBI BA/OBP/SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR fWAR Salaryn-1 Salaryn % Inc.
Andre Ethier 2011 5.153 854 3363 195 109 420 446 .291/.364/.479 .843 123 11.8 15.8 $9,250 ??? ???
Ryan Ludwick 2010 5.109 651 2411 125 104 310 375 .266/.337/.476 .813 114 9.2 13.1 $5,450 $6,775 24.3%
Josh Willingham 2010 5123 663 2602 130 103 320 336 .265/.367/.475 .841 121 11.3 12.8 $4,600 $6,000 30.4%
Cody Ross 2010 5.058 636 2222 127 86 274 319 .265/.323/.466 .788 105 8.5 10.2 $4,450 $6,300 41.6%

Ethier blows them all away in bulk stats, with more than a full season more of playing time than the trio. Perhaps a look at their respective launch seasons (the season immediately preceding arbitration eligibility) would give us a better look.

Player Year Svc Time G PA 2B HR Runs RBI BA/OBP/SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR fWAR
Andre Ethier 2011 5.153 135 551 30 11 67 62 .292/.368/.421 .789 120 1.3 2.9
Ryan Ludwick 2010 5.109 136 551 27 17 63 69 .251/.325/.418 .743 104 0.9 2.0
Josh Willingham
2010 5123 114 450 19 16 54 56 .268/.389/.459 .848 129 2.7 3.0
Cody Ross 2010 5.058 153 569 28 14 71 65 .269/.322/.413 .735 95 1.0 2.3

Again, Ethier compares favorably in his launch year, even with the missed time and suppressed power. Willingham may have had a better launch year, but Ethier played 22% more often. Looking at the raises for these three and applying them to Ethier, a 24.6% raise would mean $11.5 million and a 41.6% raise would mean about $13.1 million.

Looking at these comps, I think Ethier's floor in arbitration is $12 million. Factor in the two straight All-Star appearances and a shiny new Gold Glove on his mantel, and Ethier probably gets more than that. My guess for Ethier's salary in 2012 is $13 million. What's your guess?

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