From the sound of the message coming from General Manager Jack Zduriencik and the reality of where the 2014 payroll currently stands, the Seattle Mariners seem to be prepared make moves this winter to strengthen their team for new manager Lloyd McClendon without the usual payroll restrictions which have hindered the club's efforts in the last several seasons. There are of course quite a few intriguing names on the free agent market who have been tied to Seattle, including former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo. But perhaps it is time for the M's to once again look into a trade option that was a hot rumor a year ago.
The Mariners are in need of an upgrade in at least one outfield position, and according to the latest from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Dodgers appear open to dealing one of their outfielders, as Rosenthal reports, telling teams, "If you're interested in one of them, make us an offer."
The Dodgers are in a sort of conundrum of their own with Ethier, as he is just one of their four pretty darn good outfielders. Ideally I'm sure that they'd prefer to align their outfield with a healthy Carl Crawford in left, a healthy Matt Kemp in center and phenom Yasiel Puig in right. Ethier, in that ideal scenario, would appear to be expendable. The potential hesitation, of course, is that Crawford and Kemp have been a mess health-wise the past two years, combining to play in just 326 of 648 possible games -- barely over 50 percent. Another cause for pause could be in the splits; while several people have cautioned about Ethier's struggles against left-handers -- .235/.294/.351 career and .221/.275/.338 in 2013 -- his line against lefties last year looks Ruth-ian when compared to Crawford's. Crawford has hit .305/.343/.466 for his career against right-handed pitching and.259/.306/.374 against left-handers, but 2013 saw a much bigger split, as he hit .308/.351/.445 against right-handers and just .206/.261/.290 versus southpaws. Those numbers scream platoon for Crawford, but even though this is the Dodgers we're talking about here, I don't envision a scenario where they pay Crawford $20 million-plus annually to only play against right-handed pitching.
The Dodgers -- again, even though they are the Dodgers -- could also stand to get a little salary relief which could come from dealing Ethier. Their projected 2014 payroll is already just under $200 million before they make any moves from outside the organization, and that number could jump significantly if they buy out Clayton Kershaw's final year of arbitration. Kershaw is very likely to break Felix Hernandez's record for the biggest contract ever handed out to a pitcher whenever he signs his new deal with L.A., and there is reason to believe they'd like to get that deal done this off-season. Moving Ethier's contract could spur those talks on.
While the connection between Ethier and the Mariners has been chided before, that stance really doesn't make a lot of sense when you consider that the current free agent and former Mariner Choo is someone who everyone seems to want to jump on board to sign. To the comparison (click the links or the images):
As you can see, Choo and Ethier aren't that far apart in terms of their player profile and their overall impact. Each is best suited in right field, bat and throw left-handed, both own .288 lifetime averages and both hitters have serious issues with left-handed pitching. Ethier is three months older than Choo, but Choo has been to the disabled list six times (including for Tommy John surgery way back in 2007) while Ethier has hit the DL just once (2012). Andre has a lower walk rate but also has a lower strikeout rate. Choo sees more pitches per plate appearance (4.02 to 3.85) but also has a worse swinging strike rate (18% to 15%). Choo has a huge lead in stolen bases, but he also is among the worst in MLB in stolen base success rate in this time frame. And while it is Ethier who usually gets labeled as the poor outfielder, he's actually graded out much better than Choo -- even when only counting time in right field -- in the advanced metrics: a .943 RZR, 4.0 UZR and 2.0 UZR/150 since 2011 for Ethier, .921 RZR, -14.6 UZR and -9.0 UZR/150 for Choo.
Ethier will be entering the third year of his six-year/$95.95m contract in 2014 while Choo and agent Scott Boras are rumored to be looking for a deal in excess of the one Hunter Pence just signed to remain with the Giants (5/$90m). If we consider the vesting option as part of his deal (a safe bet, considering his health to date), the remainder of Ethier's contract works out to 5-year and $86.5 million. For arguments sake we can figure in Choo at Pence's 5-year and $90 million figure. That would seemingly give a slight edge to Ethier, but the difference here, of course, is that Choo is a free agent while Ethier would have to be acquired via trade.
What would that trade cost look like? While it would surely be prospects rather than core MLB guys, the salary relief should still be a big factor on the Dodgers side. That means that while Seattle would most likely have to give up at least one player in their Top-20 or so prospects, the cost wouldn't be anywhere near that of a Giancarlo Stanton or Justin Upton trade.
On paper Seattle has plenty of payroll room to add either player. The players aren't entirely different in their overall production, age or issues. But everyone -- including the Mariners themselves -- knows that adding either one of these players by themselves won't do much to improve the team. That means more moves will be needed, and that makes the potential savings of adding Ethier via trade instead of Choo via free agency warrant a look.
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