Once Matt Kemp went down with injury, all eyes were fixed on Andre Ethier to carry the club offensively. And he did, at least for a short amount of time. In May, Ethier hit .366/.422/.594 while the club stayed 4 games over .500.
With A.J. Ellis a surprise contributor and pleasantly productive performances from role players sprinkled in, the Dodgers have managed to stay above water without their superstar. However, when you look at the team's lineup without Matt Kemp, the only name that stick out is Andre Ethier.
It seems that ownership and management wanted to retain some semblance of star power if Kemp falters, which is why, I believe, they extended Andre Ethier.
The Dodgers are about to announce a contract extension with the 30 year old slugger, spanning 5 years and worth $85 million with a 6th year option. While it gives the Dodgers another solid bat in the lineup for the next half-decade, the single question is: will Ethier be worth it?
I searched for comparable players and comparable contracts. I wanted to find a guy who came up with a team and was signed to a mid-year extension by the same team. I failed.
Then I looked for players who were signed to 5 year deals that would take effect in their age 31 seasons. I found a satisfactory case: Magglio Ordonez.
Ordonez came up with the White Sox in 1997 and played his first full season in the majors in 1998 as a 24 year old. Ethier's first full season came in 2006, as a 24 year old. Both are/were right fielders, both hit for some power and they had very similar OPS+ scores (within 5 points).
In February of 2005, Ordonez signed a 5 year deal with the Tigers worth $75 million. His value was diminished slightly due to a knee injury. Ethier, who missed time in 2011, also had a knee injury.
So was Ordonez worth his contract? Well, he produced some strong offensive seasons, including 2007 when he batted .363/.434/.595. His defense was volatile, ranging from 8.9 runs above average to 10.2 runs below average. He missed a portion of the 2005 season but played more than 130 games each of the next four years.
Overall, he produced modest 1-2 win seasons with the exception of 2007 when his WAR was 8.1, thanks to his only positive showing with the glove and extraordinary production at the plate. Even with that 2007 season, he produced about $68 million worth of production, falling short of his contract's value.
What does this mean for Ethier? Well, if he doesn't have a monster year during the contract, it looks like he'll fall well short of living up to the value of his new pact.
Ethier is an odd case, in that his defense has actually gotten much better over the past few years, which is extremely uncommon given his age. In 2009 and 2010, his UZR was -13.5 and -16.5. In 2011 and so far in 2012, it's been 5.3 and 3.9. I don't expect it to improve or even remain positive, but it shows that he won't hurt himself with the glove.
Offensively, he's produced solid numbers on offense when healthy. He's consistently produced an OPS of around .850, which should produce a few wins on its own.
Unlike Ordonez, Ethier has never had a year with a WAR of less than 2. His WAR in 2012 is already 2.2, which sets him on pace to eclipse his career high 3.5 mark from 2008. If he averages a 2.5 WAR over the next five years, he'll fall nearly $25 million short in terms of value. And even that is unlikely due to his age.
In summary, I understand why the Dodgers made this deal, though I don't see Ethier living up to the value of the contract. However, with the current market the way it is and the need for ownership to remain competitive, as well as the organization's newfound resources, I doubt this becomes an albatross around the Dodgers' neck and the club should still be able to compete on the field and in the free agent market.
Analyzing Andre Ethier's Contract Extension
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