Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Andre Ethier Stays With the Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers get: Andre Ethier on a 5-year, $85 million dollar extension

Yesterday afternoon, the Los Angeles Dodgers tied up their All-Star, Silver-Slugging, Gold-Gloving left fielder to a massive contract extension that will prevent him from slipping into free agency just five months from now.

According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, his extensions will break down as follows:  $13.5m in 2013, $15.5m in 2014, $18m in 2015, $18m in 2016, $17.5m in 2017, and a (supposedly easily attained) $17.5m vesting option or $2.5m buyout in 2018.

Ethier's contract will now last until his age 36 season, if all goes to plan. This contract is the third-largest in Dodgers franchise history, only trailing Kevin Brown's $105 million deal and of course, Matt Kemp's newly inked $160 million pact signed just months ago. LA's offensive core should be set almost until the next decade, presuming good health and the extended development of young shortstop Dee Gordon.

The early thought on this is pretty simple: that's a lot of money and years for a guy who's never had an OPS over .900, has been noticeably injured the past two years (though his 2010 season was skunked by a broken pinkie from a errant pitch) and is on the rough side of 30.

Comparably, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones just signed a $85.5 million, 6-year deal with even more mediocre stats: besides his breakout 2 months of 2012, he's never broken an .800 OPS or played in a relevant regular season game in his career. Until this season, he's been an average to slightly-better-than-average player, but nothing more than that. He's made one All-Star team (mostly out of default - being an average to slightly-better-than-average player on the Baltimore Orioles will help) and won a Gold Glove based mostly on his sheer athleticism rather than his actual play in center field (he has one of the biggest "ranges" in the league, and yet has led the league in errors for a CF this and the previous two seasons). In short, Adam Jones has been a steady, decent player whose largely getting paid for 2 months of fulfilled potential. It could be a foolish signing, but then again, if you're the Orioles, how do you not pay one of your three decent players? In baseball, money just isn't money. It's relative to the situation. And the O's situation is awful.

The primary difference here between Jones and Ethier is that Baltimore's guy is a 26 year-old whose power stroke that scouts have been waiting for just kicked into place. Andre is a 30 year-old whose effort and performance have varied throughout his five years with the Dodgers. That fact alone is enough for anyone to pause at this contract.

However, it's hard not to call this a win for Los Angeles, for a few reasons:

This was somehow a discount

 Two years ago, the Washington Nationals wildly overpaid Jayson Werth with a seven-year, $126 million contract. Matt Holliday was similarly signed by the St. Louis Cardinals for seven years, $120 million, even though they had no apparent bidders within $20 million of them. Despite never hitting 20 homers in a season, Carl Crawford was given one of the largest deals for a position player ever, when the Boston Red Sox bestowed him with a seven year, $142 million dollar deal.

All three of these outfielders were around 30 years old....same as Ethier. Of the three, only Holliday has career accomplishments that eclipse those of Andre's seven year career, with Crawford and Werth never finishing as high as Ethier's 2009 6th place MVP voting.

We can pick apart the numbers in depth, or just look at the players superficially, but the truth is that Ethier isn't completely dissimilar to Holliday, Werth and Crawford. Those guys all got seven years and over $120 million. Sure, those deals were foolish, but have owners and general manager somehow gotten smarter in the past 12 months? If he were to hit the market, Ethier is a sure bet to have replicated that contract. Five years, $85 million is miraculously, unbelievably, a discount.

The Dodgers outfielder pipeline is bone dry

How many more times do we have to see Jerry Sands called up before we say that this guy isn't going to have it? Will Alex Castellanos ever be anything more than a very good fourth outfielder? Does Scott Van Slyke have the mobility to play a corner outfield position? Joc Pederson, James Baldwin and Alfredo Silverio are within the Dodgers' top 20 prospects, but will they be able to arrive in Chavez Ravine before 2015?

None of the answers to those questions will embolden LA faithful. Watching Castellanos, Van Slyke and Sands the past few weeks has been exciting at moments, but mostly disheartening. I'm not sure that any one of them have the potential to man the outfield full time, let alone two of them flanking Matt Kemp in center. Without Ethier, the Dodgers would have to sign another high priced outfielder (presumably Nick Swisher, or the potentially ridiculously priced Josh Hamilton this offseason) to fill the gaps until 2015 when some of these prospects might be ready for the big time. Better to stick with what we know in a player like Ethier, who is comfortable in this environment with this management. 

With the window cracked, holler back, money ain't a thang

Anytime you can quote Jermaine Dupri, you have to do it.

In case you've been living under a rock in front of Frank McCourt's forclosed estate, you'd know that the Dodgers are under new management. The Guggeinheim group, with Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson running the operation, is supposedly flush with cash and ready to spend. Ethier was their first major expediture, with more coming this offseason, and even perhaps during the year, if the team were take on a salary like Kevin Youkilis' for example. The bottom line is that the Dodgers can handle this contract without it hindering offseason spending to patch up holes in the rotation, at first and third. It's a new era of Dodger baseball, and it's beautiful.

Andre Ethier is a very good player and leader - and improving

As varied as Andre's performance has been over the past few seasons, whether it was due to indifference or injury, it's hard to argue with the results. Though he's never been a monster slugger like Holliday or Kemp, he's a steady four-tool player whose outfielding acumen has only gotten better when an athlete's explosiveness should start to regress. At the plate, he's finally hitting lefties - after a career .246 mark, in this young season Ethier has improved to a perfectly respectable .281 against southpaws.

Most importantly, Andre is one of the leaders of this team, and has noticeably kept his team afloat offensively as Matt Kemp has gone down with another hamstring injury. Ethier has shouldered the load without any lineup protection essentially, hitting .278 with 22 RBI in 28 games since Kemp went down in early May. Along with manager Don Mattingly and fantastic performances from the pitching staff, the Dodgers have managed to stay the best team in baseball. Ethier hasn't flinched during this surge, very rarely appearing rattled or pressured, despite being one of the only above average players on an offensively challenged club.

Needless to say, Ethier is one of the top 10 outfielders in baseball (go ahead count 'em up: Ellsbury, Braun, Kemp, Hamilton, McCutcheon, Carlos Gonzalez, Holliday, Pence, Granderson, Ethier), and with the Dodgers' newly acquired deep pockets, the rising cost of free agents, and a shallow pool of minor league outfield talent, this signing was a win for LA.

1 comment:

  1. This is baseball now. Draft guys and then sign them to extensions before they hit the open market. There's no way that 17.5 at the end will get picked up, but I could also see Ethier getting more than this in the open market.