The Dodgers’ expensive outfield logjam was a well-known issue entering the offseason, and while the team’s new-look front office has already unloaded Matt Kemp in a trade with the Padres, Andre Ethier remains in Los Angeles. Ethier has voiced an openness to a trade so that the he can receive regular at-bats with another club, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is now reporting that the Dodgers are willing to pay as much as half of the $56MM remaining on Ethier’s contract to facilitate a deal.
Ethier, 33 in early April, is entering the third season of a five-year, $85MM extension signed with the club back in 2012. However, his role with the Dodgers has diminished greatly in recent years as his offensive production has tailed off. Ethier has never hit left-handed pitching particularly well, but his production versus southpaws has tailed off even further since 2012, and his numbers against righties declined in 2014 as well.
Last season, Ethier batted .249/.322/.370 overall and a marginally better .253/.325/.385 against opposite-handed pitching. He’s stated in the past the difficulty that he’s had transitioning to a part-time role, and it’s certainly possible that there’s something to that theory after having been an everyday player for much of his career prior to 2014. However, testing that theory out is an expensive proposition — particularly at a stage of the offseason when most potential trade partners have already exhausted their budget.
Nonetheless, a return to form at the plate for Ethier would make him worth that ~$9MM annual value; from 2008-13, Ethier’s OPS+ never dipped below 121. In that time, he batted a healthy .286/.363/471, averaging 20 homers per season in a pitcher-friendly home park. While he’s at an age when many hitters do begin to decline, the thought of him enjoying another few productive seasons is far from outlandish. He’s not likely to contribute a significant amount of defensive value, but a team with a corner outfield need could make some sense, particularly one in the American League.
Heyman notes that the Orioles have had discussions with the Dodgers about Ethier — we last mentioned those talks in early January — and he lists the Blue Jays as a fit on paper (though Toronto’s financial limitations have been an oft-discussed storyline this winter). I’d also point out that the Rangers have done little to address their left field situation this offseason, making them a match on paper as well.
The Dodgers project to enter the season with Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig in their outfield (assuming Pederson performs well this spring), and they also have Scott Van Slyke and Chris Heisey on the 40-man roster.