A look into the crystal ball tells me things might be looking up for Andre Ethier
and his long-term hopes of staying in Los Angeles. Ethier is set to enter the 2012 season as his final year before hitting free agency, as of today he has no idea where he will be playing ball in 2013. The Dodgers believe that Ethier is due for one of his biggest seasons ever, and I see no reason to disagree with that.
Why you might ask? It's simple. Ethier is heading into a contract year, which history tells us this means good things for Ethier's 2012 numbers. Don Mattingly recently said that he plans to bat Matt Kemp
third this season and Ethier fourth. Batting behind "The Bison" can only help boost Ethier's confidence and Ethier has the ability to capitalize on the opportunity.
Let's head into the Doc Brown time machine for a moment and go back to the year 2009 where Dre dominated all season long, putting together a .272/.361/.508 line with 31 HR's, 106 RBI's, 92 Runs in 685 plate appearances. Impressive. Ethier finished in sixth place in the NL MVP voting and brought home his first Silver Slugger Award.
One year later Ethier was ready to do it again, as he started off the 2010 season leading the league in home runs, RBI's, and batting average, but during batting practice on May 15th Ethier broke his pinkie finger, and it troubled him for the rest of the season. Despite a huge slump during the final part of the season Ethier still managed to hit .292/.364/.493/ with 23 HR's, 82 RBI's, and 71 Runs scored in 585 plate appearances, exactly 100 less than 2009. Ethier also was voted into his first All-Star Game.
2011 brought more misfortune to Ethier as he battled a knee injury for almost the entire season along with a few other minor bumps and bruises. Ethier's plate appearances and at bats took another dive and consequently so did his numbers. Ethier still produced well as he hit .292/.368/.421, his power numbers fell off dramatically, as he only hit 11 dingers, 62 RBI's and 67 total runs scored. Despite the decline Ethier was selected for his second straight All-Star Game, and took home a Gold Glove to add to his trophy case. Ethier underwent knee surgery last September and Ethier is now reportedly in great shape, healthy, and ready to bounce back for a huge season.
So here's the deal. If Ethier gets back to his days of 2009 again, the Dodgers are going to find themselves in an ugly predicament. One that will cost either huge dollars or possibly a vacancy in right field. It seems that Colletti is aware of this, as he has had a few conversations with Ethier to discuss the topic, including a visit to Ethier's home during the offseason. We have heard Ethier talk about how much he loves Los Angeles and how much he loves the Dodgers. But we have also heard him say he would love to play with his best friend Dustin Pedroia
over in Boston. On top of that you may recall Ethier being very vocal
towards the end of last season about leaving the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have some risk here, undoubtedly. But it's a risk well worth taking. He is one of the best left-handed hitters in the game, and he has led the Dodgers offensively for years against right-handed pitching. After Kemp who is the next best hitter? It's Ethier. You don't even have to think about it. If the Dodgers let Ethier hit free agency, you can bet there is going to be a long list of suitors ready to scoop him off the market. And you can bet your bottom line that the Yankees, Angels, Giants, or Red Sox will come out victorious.
What about a five year $60MM deal? Or maybe a three year $40MM deal? I definitely wouldn't want to go more than five years guaranteed, but if the money is right you gotta make it happen. The Dodgers need to execute and execute now. The Dodgers simply can not afford to lose their second-most important offensive player. The guy played through knee pain all season for you because you didn't believe the guy. Yeah I haven't forgotten that, and neither has Andre. The time is right, the time in now. The guy has incredible heart, he's a natural born leader, he's one of the most underrated players in the game, and he's probably the most clutch player the Dodgers have offensively. Letting him hit free agency would be a huge blow that would likely cause Ethier to walk. This is not a chance you take, not with what void you have should he depart.
The Dodgers and Ethier have been vocal this offseason about the hopes of a long-term deal getting done. But it seems Ethier is holding all the cards now, and will likely play his hand wisely. He could wait and see what happens with the ownership change, see how the season goes, and take it from there. I think regardless the new owner is going to make securing the talent within long-term the number one priority. That could mean an aggressive approach to locking up Ethier.
Perhaps my biggest concern is if the Dodgers stumble out of the gates and fall into last place, does Ethier become trade bait at the deadline? The answer, I highly doubt it. The new owner is going to want to compete right away and the Dodgers are young enough and have enough talent to compete right away. There is no need to rebuild under any circumstance. Trading Ethier would certainly signal that and I think the Dodgers are going to work hard to lock up Ethier and Kershaw as soon as the new money arrives.