If someone were to tell me the Dodgers were going to be in the cellar of the NL West during the first week in June, I would have thought they were making a really bad joke. Obviously, I would have been wrong.
You can point to a lot of factors responsible for the disappointment thus far, with strained muscles topping the list, but management has decided to also point a finger at outfielder Andre Ethier. Earlier this season, Don Mattingly made a statement that he was looking for players that had "grit" and "put the team in the best position to compete on a daily basis". It wasn't so much the statement that stirred up controversy among the baseball community, but Donnie's actions following the statement certainly did when he started recent call-up Scott Van Slyke over a benched Andre Ethier in right field. Mattingly made sure to emphasize the fact that the message was meant for the whole team, but it was really hard to ignore the fact that Ethier was the only starter benched that day.
Let's face it, Dre's numbers this year leave much to be desired, triple slashing .232/.321/.356. While he has maintained a decent on-base percentage of .321, both his average and slugging percentage make me cringe, as they are by far the lowest in his career with Los Angeles. What makes these stats even more alarming is that Ethier doesn't even have an excuse at the moment, playing at full health, free of nagging injuries.
So what gives? Why is he so mediocre at the dish this season?
To put things in perspective, the vintage Andre Ethier we as Dodgers fans all love so much hasn't been a legitimate league leader in driving in runs since 2009. That was the last year Ethier surpassed either 25 homeruns or 100 RBIs in a season. Hard to believe its been that long, hasn't it? I had to double check the stats myself but they don't lie; its been four long years since Ethier was a real force to be reckoned with at the plate.
To add to the growing concern over Ethier's future with the Dodgers has been the recent call-up of outfield prospect Yasiel Puig, and his immediate success and impact with the club. Its hard to believe a player can be called-up, and in less than a week, run one of the Dodger's core players pretty much out of town, but it seems to be happening, and happening fast. The only reason why management may keep Ethier around for a little longer than people think coincides with the update on Carl Crawford's injury, which seems to be more serious than originally diagnosed. He went from only needing the minimum 15 days to recover, to being out for a month, possibly longer depending on how the hamstring reacts to physical therapy. You can almost guarantee though that Andre will be dealt before we reach the trading deadline this season, and most likely sooner, if Crawford comes back before then.
Since Ethier will most likely be packing his bags sooner rather than later, it doesn't hurt to evaluate just what kind of value he commands.
What is he worth then?
If we look across the board in every offensive category over the past four years, Ethier has either maintained, or dropped his production, which is only a sign of more disappointment to come as he is on the wrong side of his age 30 season. That isn't to say he still doesn't hold value, as his offensive averages over the past three seasons are still slightly above league average for a right fielder. He definitely is not worth the $85 million over 5 years the Dodgers agreed to sign him to in June 2012, marking the first major move made by the new ownership. I can guarantee you there is not a single team out there willing to pay the full amount of Ethier's contract no matter who the Dodgers get in a return trade. They are, in the literal sense of the phrase, going to have to buy back Ethier's contract at 50 cents on the dollar before he is marketable to other teams. If the Dodgers were to do that, his contract would look something like $40-$45 million owed over the next 5 years, which is much closer to his fair market value. Once ownership is able to bite the bullet and fork out the cash, they can begin the search of finding a suitor for the lefty outfielder.
There is also something to be said about his value on a day to day basis as well. Currently, his numbers are probably the worst they are going to be all season, marking his lowest value to this point. We as Dodgers fans all know what kind of hitter Ethier is though, and all it takes is for him to ride a two week hot streak for those numbers to stabilize, which will boost his value and marketability across the league.
Looking at the Dodgers current roster and assessing what area needs the most help, it is easy to see we need another arm, or arms and maybe a decent young infielder with a lot of upside. Our bullpen hasn't been very consistent yet this season and I feel it requires the most attention, but if the right starting pitcher came along, that offer would also be very hard to pass up too.
So, who would be interested in a guy like Andre Ethier? Looking at all the different teams in contention and players out there the possibilities seem endless. Having said that, lets approach the issue based on which team would benefit the most from his presence and go from there.
One team I think could definitely benefit from having Ethier in their lineup is the Boston Red Sox. Besides Ellsbury in center field, Boston doesn't have an outfielder in a non-platoon role. On a day-to-day basis, they're starting whoever matches up best against the starting pitcher on that given day in left and right field with Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Jackie Bradley Jr.. Having that consistency of an everyday run-producer would serve Boston well, and would solidify the #5 or #6 spot in their batting order. In return, the Dodgers could ask for one of their many young infield talents. Two guys that stand out to me are Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco. Both are better known for their gloves than their bats, but are also young enough to develop into more legitimate threats at the plate. The more promising prospect of the two in definitely Iglesias, as he is only 23 years old and is capable of playing 2B, SS, and 3B. If Boston were to be unable to part with Iglesias, then Ciriaco wouldn't be a bad second option, but he would need to come as a package deal with a good reliever as Ethier holds much more value than Ciriaco alone.
Another team that could require the services of Andre is the Texas Rangers. As many of you have been reading, their starting right fielder Nelson Cruz has been named in the Biogenesis scandal and could potentially be facing a suspension later this season. The ballpark in Arlington is also a hitter's haven, and Ethier's power could potentially translate very well, leading to a spike in his homerun total. The only issue I see with Texas comes down to who the Dodgers would receive in return for Ethier. Its been widely publicized that the Rangers have a logjam of major league talent on their infield depth chart, with Jurickson Profar being the odd-man out. The Dodgers acquiring Profar would be wishful thinking on our part though; to put it in black and white, Profar could command a much better return than Andre Ethier and I think Texas will hold onto Profar until the right offer comes along. Having said that, I had another thought. What about Ian Kinsler? He is one of the best hitting second basemen in baseball, right behind Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano. And he is making a ton of money, currently signed for 5 years/$75 million. If the Dodgers ate a good portion of Ethier's contract, and sent them a young arm from the farm with Ethier, they may be able to catch the Ranger's interest, just because they would be unloading $35-40 million off the Ranger's payroll, as well as solving their logjam problem by opening up second base for Profar. Again, that is probably wishful thinking considering the lack of power hitting second basemen in baseball, a unique skill Kinsler possesses.
Probably the most interesting place I thought Ethier might end up is right where the Dodgers originally acquired him from, Oakland. They are one of the few teams in baseball who currently have a surplus of major league ready pitching at their disposal, and they could definitely use the offensive boost Ethier would provide. The biggest complication arising from a deal with the A's comes down to payroll. Oakland is not financially equipped to take on a contract as large as Ethier's, even if Los Angeles were to pay off a large portion of Ethier's contract for Oakland, I'm still not confident they would be interested. Their bread and butter is finding player's that are sabermetric anomalies and utilizing them in platoon roles depending on day to day matchups, and many of those players have salaries at or near the big league minimum. This makes the financial gap between Ethier's contract and anyone on the A's roster too large, leaving very little room for compromise.
Just looking across the league, there are still so many contenders in each division it makes it really difficult to determine who in fact would be interested in acquiring Ethier at this point in the season. Andre's numbers may not be as impressive as they were a few years ago, but he still is considered a very legitimate run producer that could be the difference maker on a team in need of a lefty bat. Whether Ethier is one of your favorite Dodger players or not, you have to tip your cap to the man for his many years as a contributing force in right field. Teams and players rarely are able stay together throughout an entire career, and all we can do now is thank Ethier for his past services and support him in his new endeavors moving forward.