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Should The Red Sox Care That Andre Ethier Is Available?

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The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to shed Andre Ethier and his extension, and Boston needs an outfielder. Do they need this outfielder, though?

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The Dodgers took on a lot of salary in an August trade with the Red Sox. More salary than anyone else has ever taken on, ever, in any deal. So much money that, before they even make a move this off-season, they are responsible for $193 million in guaranteed contracts for 2013. That's more than Boston's total salary for 2012, after accounting for arbitration, pre-arb, the 40-man. Everything. In short, Los Angeles has some bills to pay.

Because of this, and the fact their outfield is set in stone for years with Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier around, it's not surprising to see that the Dodgers are willing to send the last of that group, Ethier, elsewhere in the right trade. It's not clear what that trade is just yet -- to free up all of his salary, to receive prospects back, in exchange for a multitude of usable, inexpensive pieces to fill out the 25-man. But they are open to moving him, says ESPN's Buster Olney.

Ethier, as Red Sox fans know, is a longtime friend and former college teammate of Dustin Pedroia. That's no reason to get Ethier on its own, of course, but because of this, pre-extension, talk of the two reuniting at some point has come up in the past. Now, with Ethier available, it's time for a little pro and con on why the Sox should (or shouldn't) be interested in the outfielder.

Why Boston Should Be Interested

  • Boston currently has one sure thing, Jacoby Ellsbury, in their outfield. That sure thing is a free agent following the 2013 campaign. In addition, he's only a "sure thing" in the sense that his contract hasn't run out yet -- it's up in the air whether he's a useful player or an impact one in 2013. Ethier is signed for the next five seasons, with an option for a sixth.
  • Ethier has played his entire career in a park that favors pitchers. Fenway is a much friendlier home locale, and it's possible Boston could get more out of him there than Los Angeles did.
  • Boston all of a sudden is having an on-base percentage crisis of sorts. While Ethier's power numbers have moved up and down a bit over the years, he tends to be consistent with his OBP figures, with a .362 career mark, and .350 as his worst-ever output. Because of those walks, Ethier has managed a 124 OPS+ in his career, a rate that exactly one Boston regular outperformed in 2012.
  • Ethier has had some poor seasons defensively, but has been much better in his last few. He could always move to left at Fenway Park as well, should right field be considered too difficult.

Why Boston Should Leave Ethier Alone

  • Ethier is owed $85 million over the next five years, as well as a $2.5 million buyout on a sixth-year option. He'll be 31 years old in the first year of the deal, meaning that, by the end of this contract, Boston might regret having him around at $18 million per year.
  • Dodger Stadium favors pitchers, but historically, Ethier has been much better there than on the road, and it's not even close. He's a .309/.378/.525 hitter at Dodger Stadium in 450 games, and a .272/.347/.429 hitter on the road. It's also something that's continued over the last few years as well, as he's developed and gone through his peak. In that sense, Ethier might have more value to the Dodgers than to other teams, rather than the other way around. Fenway would likely be a place where he could continue to hit well -- it's the most double-friendly park in the majors for left-handed batters -- but there might not be the kind of boost in production you would expect.
  • Ethier cannot hit lefties. While a platoon partner could be provided, or the Red Sox could move Ethier around in their lineup to compensate for this against southpaws, it's a definite negative. One of Boston's strengths has been their performance against left-handed pitching, despite the heavy presence of lefties in the lineup. Ethier could help them against right-handers, but there is a cost (and that cost is $17 million a year in average annual value for five years).
  • Boston would have to pay up in prospects or players in order to take Ethier from the Dodgers, when a similar player like Nick Swisher will be available at the cost of a draft pick, and likely fewer years and dollars. It's not a guarantee, but there are other options out there, potentially less-expensive ones.
Does the good outweigh the bad? Ethier is an odd player in the sense that you can construct plenty of reasons to get him or to stay away, and none of them are false. He's a consistently productive hitter, has improved as a defender, but is overpaid for those facts in the present. Does it come down to price in an Ethier trade? Or do the negatives mean Boston should be looking elsewhere, rather than spending this financial flexibility to help bail out the organization that did the same for them just a few months ago?