The date is June 12, 2012. The Dodgers, without Matt Kemp, are still a comfortable 4.5 games up in the NL West. And Ned Colletti is getting ready to announce that the Dodgers have extended Andre Ethier for 5 years and $85 million.
Initially, I was open to the deal. While I included the caveat that I didn't believe he'd live up to the total value, I also noted that the free agent and trade market were such that having stability on the roster would be key.
Four and a half months and some major acquisitions later, the team is in a completely different place.
Ethier ended his season with a respectable .284/.351/.460 line. He once again reached 20 home runs, drove in 89 and is even a finalist for the Gold Glove. However, the Dodgers are now rumored to be considering moving him. Why?
It's quite simple, really: he's a platoon player. One aspect of his game that I neglected to address in my initial reaction to his extension was the fact that he's grown increasingly ineffective against left-handed pitching. In 2012, he hit just .222 against southpaws with an OPS barely above .600. In 2011, the numbers were even worse (.220, .563). In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2007 to find a season when he hit better than .250 against lefties.
Normally, this would be solved by substituting a right-handed hitting outfielder when the team faces a left-handed starter. Unfortunately, that strategy didn't work too well last year. Juan Rivera, who was designed to be the Dodgers' platoon RHH, batted just .260 against southpaws, though he did produce an OPS of .745, nearly .150 points higher than Ethier's. He's gone now, as is Jerry Sands, who could have filled that role had he not been shipped off to Boston in the blockbuster.
So what do the Dodgers do with their $85 million part-time player? Trading him would be an easy fix, but to whom and for what? And, most importantly, how much salary would they have to eat in order for a team to take him?
First, they'd need to find a club willing to take on some payroll. Big market teams would be the easy targets. The Yankees and Red Sox come to mind immediately, though after shedding so much salary in the Dodger deal, would Boston be willing to take on a long term contract?
Let's examine the Yankees. Ichiro Suzuki and Nick Swisher are free agents. Curtis Granderson's option has been picked up and they still have Brett Gardner, but the team could use another outfielder as well as a DH if Raul Ibanez isn't retained.
The Red Sox are less likely to take on a big contract, though the prospects of heading into next season with corner outfielders like Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney could persuade them to spend some money. Still, I don't see Ethier being the direction they'd go.
The Cubs are another big market team with questions in the outfield. Plus, during Theo Epstein's tenure in Boston, there were rumblings that Ethier would eventually end up there. But I'm not sure I see this deal happening either. The Cubs have a young centerfielder named Brett Jackson who they like and they have Brian LaHair who posted decent numbers for them last year. Plus, they still have David DeJesus for $5 million next season. And don't forget Alfonso Soriano, There just seems to be too much confusion in their outfield to bring in a big contract.
The Mets and Phillies are another pair of big budget teams with holes in their outfields. However, the Mets are still reeling from the Jason Bay disaster and the Phillies traded their two best outfielders to the NL West last year.
All in all, there doesn't seem to be a clear match for the Dodgers even if they feel dealing Ethier is the right thing to do. The Yankees make the most sense but I don't know how much of the contract they'd be willing to take on and what they'd be willing to deal back. It seems as though whether the Dodgers could trade Ethier is far more complicated than whether or not they should.
Could, Not Should, the Dodgers Trade Ethier?
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