Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier can hit. That much cannot be disputed; the sweet-swinging left-handed hitter owns a career line of .291/.365/.481. However, his troubles with the injury bug raise some interesting questions as the 30-year-old commences his walk year before a potential foray into free agency.
After debuting in Los Angeles in 2006, Ethier improved steadily over each of the next two seasons before breaking out as a premier slugger in 2009, when he ripped 31 homers to go with a .272/.361/.508 line. If Ethier had followed up that campaign with a couple more like it in 2010 and 2011, he'd be in line for a monster contract right about now. Instead, though, he spent time on the DL both years, and though his production was competent when he was on the field, it wasn't on par with his breakout '09.
Rumors about a potential extension for Ethier have kicked around for awhile, but it doesn't appear talks have gotten too serious, and with the Dodgers' ownership situation still being sorted out, it could take some time before the team has its finances in order to the extent that it could consider a long-term extension for one of its cornerstone players.
In the meanwhile, Ethier's off to a fast start this season, and he's made it a point to say he's focused on remaining healthy and productive. The latter isn't an issue, but the former might be, and it could very well determine just how big of a payday he's in store for this offseason (or before then, if he signs an extension).
Another year derailed by injuries, and Ethier could have to settle for a short-term deal in order to reestablish his stock, but if he can recapture his health and performance of three years ago, he could be looking at a windfall. I wouldn't go so far as to say he'll secure anything near the seven years and $126MM the Nationals lavished on Jayson Werth two offseasons ago, but one never knows; it only takes one team.
Among the high-end talents in the upcoming crop of free-agent right fielders, Ethier will be joined by Nick Swisher of the Yankees, Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners, and Torii Hunter of the Angels, all useful players in their own ways but none without question marks -- not unlike Ethier himself. Ethier, though, is probably the best bet of that lot to land a big contract based on his age and productivity. Advanced defensive metrics don't especially like Ethier's defense, and his durability woes are well documented, but a big walk year has a funny way of obscuring past sins -- think of Jose Reyes after last season.