The news reached Andre Ethier just as it rippled across the baseball landscape in early December. Zack Greinke text messaged Ethier to let him know he had spurned the Dodgers in free agency and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Nearly two months later, the departure still stings.
"It hurts big losing Zack," Ethier said at an event in San Bernardino, part of the "Dodgers Love L.A." caravan. "I don't care what you say. It hurts losing Zack."
Yet, Ethier maintained his optimism as he prepared for his 11th season with the Dodgers. He spent Wednesday morning meeting with victims and first-responders from the Dec. 2 terrorists attack. He joined a delegation that included Tommy Lasorda and Steve Garvey to share lunch and sign autographs with the group.
Near the end of a stirring address in which he thanked the assembled first-responders for their service, Lasorda joked that they all should also say a prayer for himself and for the Dodgers. A few minutes later, during an interview with reporters, Ethier suggested a fourth consecutive National League West title might not require divine intervention.
"I think we have the depth, and the players we need," Ethier said. "It might not be as splashy as it was on paper in the past, but good teams are not always the ones you think about or expect."
The first month of the season holds two potential milestones for Ethier, who will turn 34 in April. If he remains with the team through April 21, he will earn the right to veto any trade, a perk of being a 10-year veteran who has spent five seasons with the same team.
That power could clarify his status within a crowded outfield, which is also stocked with Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Carl Crawford. Ethier rebounded after a down year in 2014 to finish second on the Dodgers last season with an .852 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Ethier punished right-handed pitchers in 2015. But feasting on right-handers could become tougher this season as the division welcomes a quartet of highly touted pitchers. The Diamondbacks traded for Shelby Miller to pair with Greinke; the San Francisco Giants splurged on Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
Arizona lured Greinke with a six-year, $206.5-million offer. San Francisco dropped a combined $220 million on its duo. The Dodgers opted for a more fiscally conservative route: They signed left-hander Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $48-million deal, enticed Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda with an incentive-laden contract worth a guaranteed $25 million, and kept Brett Anderson with a $15.8-million qualifying offer.
However, it will be difficult for any of those three to match Greinke's performance in 2015. Greinke had a record of 19-3 with a 1.66 earned-run average and a walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) of 0.844.
"Statistically, if you look at some of the stuff he did, it was some of the best numbers in quite a few years," Ethier said. "So I can say it now: I hope he doesn't have the same performance. Because I don't want to be facing that."
Brandon Beachy demoted