Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been diagnosed with a “mild” herniated disk in his lower back, and manager Dave Roberts told reporters (including MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick) that “it’s going to be tough” for Ethier to be ready for the start of the season. Ethier will be held out of baseball activities for the next 7-10 days after receiving an epidural injection in his lower back, so while Roberts said the Dodgers are “definitely not closing that door” on Ethier’s Opening Day availability, they could face a bit of a roster crunch.
If Ethier is indeed headed for a DL stint, it would mark his second consecutive season opener missed due to injury. Ethier broke his leg during last year’s Spring Training and didn’t return to the field until September, appearing in just 16 games in 2016. While this back injury doesn’t appear to be nearly as serious, Roberts said the team’s obvious priority is to make sure Ethier is healthy, so there won’t be a rush to get him ready for Opening Day.
L.A. has quite a few extra outfielders to handle left field in Ethier’s absence, with Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson, Franklin Gutierrez and Enrique Hernandez all on the 25-man roster and Brett Eibner and Scott Van Slyke providing additional depth in the minors. Even with all this depth, however, the Dodgers were already mixing and matching platoon options to best cover themselves in the outfield. Ethier is entering his age-35 season and coming off a virtual lost year, center fielder Joc Pederson is best served by having a platoon partner to handle left-handed pitching and right fielder Yasiel Puig is also not a sure thing after his inconsistent play in recent years.
Ethier is entering his 12th season, all with the Dodgers, and 2017 will be the final year of a five-year, $82.5MM extension signed in June 2012. Los Angeles holds a club option for $17.5MM ($2.5MM buyout) on Ethier’s services for next season. That option can vest into a guaranteed deal should the outfielder make 550 plate appearances this year, so any significant amount of time missed due to his back injury could be quite costly for Ethier.