Andre Ethier, still here.
What’s an exciting Dodgers’ off-season without some Ethier trade speculation? Predictable as packed health clubs after New Year’s Day.
Only this year, it is a tad different. This year, the cries to unload Ethier are less because he was unproductive and looked headed toward the twilight of his career, and more like whispers his tenure will come into play.
No one can really complain about Ethier’s output last year. After becoming a reserve the previous season and making it clear going into spring training he had no interest in repeating that role in 2015, Ethier had a fairly terrific comeback.
Used almost exclusively against right-handers — a role many had suggested for years — Ethier put up a .294/.366/.486 line, with 14 home runs, 20 doubles and 53 RBIs in 395 plate appearances. He became the Dodgers’ most productive and dependable outfielder. His .852 OPS was second on the team among regulars to Justin Turner (.861).
So why would the Dodgers trade him now? Maybe because they feel like they almost have to.
Ethier will be 34 on April 10, and 11 days later, he will earn his 10-and-five rights (10 years of major league service, the last five with the same team) and can refuse any trade.
And that’s a problem for the Dodgers. His trade value may have increased after his productive 2015, but not enough to draw significant interest at a player his age and still owed $38 million on the final two years of his contract. If a slight number of teams do express interest — no doubt with a caveat that the Dodgers absorb a significant amount of contract — the Dodgers would not want Ethier to be able to nix a potential deal because he has no interest in playing there.
It would behoove the Dodgers to move him now, while whatever limited options they have available cannot be further reduced by Ethier. Yet if there has been any Ethier trade discussion going on, it has been remarkably quiet. Particularly for a player who has been involved in off-season trade rumors on an almost annual basis.
Camp opens next month, and the Dodgers still have too many starting outfielders — Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Carl Crawford and Ethier. And all but Puig bat left-handed. But Pederson is coming off a miserable rookie second half, and Puig and Crawford had disappointing and injury-filled seasons. Somewhat ironically, the Dodgers now almost need the solid Ethier.
Enough to gamble he stays healthy and pay the final $38 million? The only way Ethier is likely to approve a trade after April 21 is if it meant significantly improved playing time on a contender. That could prove a tough combo.
For now, even with additional motivation to move him, Ethier is still here. He could be for the next two years, too, making him one of the most discussed trade pieces the Dodgers never moved.
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