Can The Dodgers Even Sell Low On Andre Ethier?

There’s a question in the mailbag — I swear we’ll do another soon — about whether the Dodgers should try to do a ‘bad contract swap’ of Andre Ethier for Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who disappointed in the first year of his 4/$50m contract, putting up a 4.81 ERA/4.67 FIP and being left off the ALCS roster. (Though I can’t find the link at the moment, he reportedly declined to stay with the team during the ALCS, choosing instead to simply go home.) Jimenez has occasionally been one of the best pitchers in baseball, but twice in the last three seasons, he’s been one of the worst pitchers in baseball. On the surface, maybe that makes sense.

And yet, the answer seems easy: Baltimore wouldn’t even consider it, because Ethier was that bad this year, and they already have a better Ethier-esque player in Nick Markakis. His power, which has been steadily declining since 2008, completely bottomed out this year, with only four homers (as many as Madison Bumgarner) and a .370 SLG that was worse than that of James Loney, Dee Gordon, and Alcides Escobar. His BB% sank to 8.2, well below 2013’s 11.0 and below his career 9.6 average. He was, for the first time in his career, a below-average offensive player — he adds nothing on the bases — and while we were all pleasantly surprised at how not-atrocious he was covering in center field in 2013, that’s not the same thing as being good, either. His move to center to replace Matt Kemp in late May lasted only about a month before he was sharing time with Scott Van Slyke, then replaced entirely by Yasiel Puig.

Worse, my hopes that an improved platoon situation — Ethier’s 51 PA against lefties were by far the lowest of his career — would improve his overall performance just didn’t happen. Most of his mediocre line came against righties, traditionally something he’d been very good at, but a group he hit only .253/.325/.385 against.

It’s not like the Dodger outfield is less crowded now, either. Van Slyke has shown he deserves more playing time. Joc Pederson is here. No one thinks this situation can last for another season, and Ethier is 33 (in April), coming off the worst year of his life, as a platoon bat with limited defensive value and $56m still remaining. Jimenez was terrible, and yet I’d make that deal in a heartbeat, which should tell you a lot about what Ethier’s trade “value” is right now.

One way or another, a Dodger outfielder is moving. Maybe it’s Van Slyke, though that wouldn’t really free up much room. Maybe it’s Puig in some kind of massive deal, though that seems unlikely. Kemp’s second-half surge probably keeps him in the heart of the lineup. Carl Crawford could go, though he’s only mildly more valuable than Ethier is. Most likely, Ethier is going in a deal that sees the Dodgers A) eat 90% of his contract B) take on someone else’s problem or C) both.

There’s room for a fuller evaluation of just what went wrong with Ethier, and we’ll get to that in the season reviews, but this wasn’t a one-season blip. He’s been declining for years, and Steamer sees him only for .261/.336/.400 in 2015. It’s why the rest of the game sees him like Keith Law does

Daniel (Bloomington) Edwin Jackson for Andre Ethier in a bad contract swap? cubs need veteran outfield help
Klaw (1:54 PM) No, they don’t. The Cubs need Ethier like the world needs another folk singer.

…and Jackson was awful. Even if the Dodgers wanted to eat someone else’s atrocious contract, they’re limited in how they can do that; they aren’t, for example, going to add another outfielder (B.J. Upton) or someone limited to first base (Ryan Howard). Remember that when someone says “let’s trade Ethier for a reliever,” as though someone is really giving up quality. It’s tough to find a palatable solution, really, and when something happens we’ll probably just quietly acknowledge and pretend this never happened.

About Mike Petriello

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