No, Andre Ethier Isn’t Getting Non-tendered


I was hoping to avoid this story, because it’s too dumb for words, but over the last 24 hours it’s quickly becoming clear that I’m not going to be so fortunate. After reiterating that Andre Ethier claims he’s not sure if he’ll be with the Dodgers past 2011, Tony Jackson has more on the story I’m praying won’t linger all season:

However, teams can choose to non-tender their arbitration-eligible players, making them free agents.

The Dodgers went that route with former All-Star catcher Russell Martin over the winter, and Ethier hinted that a similar fate could be in store for him.

“My salary is increasing each year,” Ethier said. “I would say the likeliness of me being here beyond this year, it’s not just my decision. … I have been kind of lucky to be in one spot in baseball for as long as I have been, for six years now. That is a long time to be in one city playing for one team. There is no inclination now other than to go out and play this year and see what we’ve got.

“If I don’t play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here. If you do play well, sometimes they don’t offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high.”

Far be it from me to stop anyone from decrying the cheapness of the McCourt regime, but this is just beyond ludicrous. Martin was not only on a two-year decline, he was coming off both a serious hip injury and a knee injury that required surgery. There were some arguments to be made for keeping him, but the risks were such that non-tendering was far from an indefensible decision – as you may remember, I supported it. Ethier, on the other hand, owns the 10th-highest OPS+ in LA Dodger history (min. 1500 PA), and there’s almost no scenario you can think of short of felony charges where his 2011 goes so poorly that he gets non-tendered.

Of course, Ethier’s a player, not a writer or an executive, and he’d be far from the first player to prove himself woefully out of touch when it comes to rational player evaluation. Ballplayers don’t read blogs, many don’t even read the papers, and you can be damned sure they don’t understand the dollar value of a win or how the 40-man roster works. For most players, their understanding of what makes a player valuable goes no deeper than wins, RBI, or “toughness”. Proof of that is simply in the fact that Ethier is griping about possibly (in his mind) being non-tendered, when in fact that would release him from a final year of team control and instead skyrocket his earning power as a free agent 29-year-old power bat.

Personally, it doesn’t really bother me if that’s how he feels. Maybe Ethier was tight with Martin and respected the latter’s willingness to play every day. Maybe it wasn’t even Martin at all that bothered him, but instead Randy Wolf or Orlando Hudson, each of whom left after 2009 without arbitration offers. It doesn’t mean he’s right, of course, but if he’s seeing departures of friends or teammates he thinks can help him win, you can possibly see where he’s coming from.

No, the problem here isn’t that Ethier seemingly doesn’t understand how the system works. The problem is that the season starts in less than 48 hours and he’s decided now is the time to go public with his complaints. Clearly, he’s mad about something, and it’s hard to think that the timing of this – coming as it does at almost exactly the same time as news of Chad Billingsley‘s contract extension broke – is a coincidence. If Ethier’s upset that he didn’t get an extension, now’s a hell of a time to be complaining about it. For what it’s worth, Ned Colletti said he had brief discussions with Ethier’s agent about an extension this offseason, though Ethier claims he didn’t know about that.

Really, Ethier’s damned-if-you-do (“If you do play well, sometimes they don’t offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high”), damned-if-you-don’t (“If I don’t play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here”) act simply doesn’t fly here, because there’s basically a 0.0% chance that he doesn’t get either an arbitration offer or a long-term deal after the season ends. And you know what? If he plays so poorly that they do decide he’s too expensive and they cut him loose? Then I have a hard time drumming up any sympathy about it.

If Ethier’s thinking about being elsewhere in 2012, then the only way that’s going to happen is via trade. I’ll admit here that part of me has long hoped that would happen, since as much as I like him, the Dodgers already control him through age 30, and I’m hesitant to commit big dollars to the age 31-35 seasons of a guy who already can’t hit lefties or play solid defense. That’s a conversation for another day, though; for now, let’s hope that this isn’t a distraction through the 2011 season, and that it’s not something I have to continually discuss, because this was not a post I enjoyed writing.

On Chad Billingsley’s New Contract (And Notes)

Fun fact: over two years ago, on January 26, 2009, I wrote about Zack Greinke‘s extension with the Royals and wondered how this might impact Chad Billingsley. (This was before Greinke’s ridiculous Cy Young 2009 and Billingsley’s second half collapse that year, remember.) At the time, this is what I proposed Billingsley could end up with:

I mean, there’s no longer any remaining question about whether we want him around, right? So why not buy out his three arbitration years and the first year of free agency with a 4 year, $36 million deal?

And what did Billingsley end up with yesterday?

Source: Billingsley’s three-year deal with the #Dodgers worth $35-36 million, including buyout of option for fourth year.

Okay, that was pretty close; if you include the $6.275m he’s making this year, it’s essentially a four year deal worth approximately $42m. I say “pretty close”, because at the time, it would be buying out all arb years with just one free agent year, while this deal is of course buying out more higher-priced free agent years. (I’ll ask you to kindly ignore that I also said at the time that Billingsley was definitely superior to Greinke, and allow me to pretend that I’m some sort of soothsayer over here.)

In all seriousness, however, I’m very satisfied with this deal, and I think it’s fair for both sides. Billingley’s always been somewhat underrated in my book; of the 87 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2008, his FIP of 3.42 is tied for 14th with Ubaldo Jimenez. That’s better than names like Johan Santana, Jered Weaver, Roy Oswalt, Francisco Liriano, and Matt Cain. Is that an ace? I’ll save that discussion for another day, but if you wanted to say that more than half the teams in baseball don’t have a pitcher as good as he is, you could certainly make the argument. (Kershaw, of course, is 12th on that list, with the best still expected from him.) This also provides the team with some cost certainty, thus avoiding not only the question of what kind of arbitration deal he might be in line for next year, but what might happen when he hit the open market the year after.

Eric Stephen at TrueBlueLA and Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts are both also happy with the deal, comparing it to deals for Ricky Nolasco and Justin Verlander, respectively, and even better, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs thinks the Dodgers made out very well. It’s a long read, so I won’t paste it all, but here’s the fun takeaway:

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the extension that Wandy Rodriguez signed with the Astros just a few months ago. Rodriguez was in his final year of arbitration, so he was at the point where Billingsley would have been at the end of the 2011 season – when his new deal actually kicks in. Rodriguez signed a 3 year, $34 million extension with the Astros covering the same years that Billingsley just gave up to get some security. His career numbers – 985 innings, 62 wins, and a 4.18 ERA.

If, this year, Billingsley threw 160 innings, posted a 7.43 ERA, and won just three games, he would end the year with those same career numbers. If Wandy Rodriguez’s deal set the market for what the final year of arbitration and first two years of free agency are worth, Billingsley essentially locked in a price that would be fair (based on career numbers) if he was the worst pitcher in baseball this year.

Perhaps he really wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and he had motivations beyond simply squeezing the Dodgers for every last penny he could get. Whatever the reasoning, though, it seems pretty clear that Billingsley left a lot of money on the table with this deal.

Barring trades, you can now expect to see Billingsley alongside Clayton Kershaw for at least the next four seasons. That’s a beautiful thing, and for the more optimistic among us, it means it’s no longer totally unreasonable to think that we can dream about a front three of Kershaw, Billingsley, and Zach Lee one day. I’m very pleased with this deal from the team’s perspective, and even if Billingsley did leave some money on the table, well, he also just made about $35 million, so fair deal for both sides. Good job, Ned.

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One update to my prospective 25-man roster: Jay Gibbons is likely to start the season on the disabled list due to his continuing vision problems. From a pure baseball perspective, this doesn’t bother me all that much; after all, I did argue just last week that he wasn’t worth a roster spot, and this does almost guarantee that Xavier Paul makes the club. Still, after all Gibbons has been through (some of it self-inflicted, to be sure), it’s tough to see his triumphant comeback story derailed by something as unexpected as this. This is actually a better scenario than an outright DFA, though, because not only does his $650k salary become guaranteed, he’ll be eligible for a rehab stint in the minors when he’s able, and assuming that takes a few weeks, we should have a lot more clarity on the roster situation at that point.

We don’t yet know who will get the extra spot, and you could argue that any of 4-5 names are in the mix. My strong preference has to be towards A.J. Ellis, however, because all indications are that Hector Gimenez is an emergency catcher at best.

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Over at Baseball Prospectus, Ben Lindbergh has put together a list of positions where contending teams have decided to go with decidedly unpalatable options – guys like Jeff Mathis and Yuniesky Betancourt. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Dodger left field mess made the list.  

LF: Tony Gwynn Jr., Dodgers (.233 TAv, -0.6 WARP)

The Dodgers’ stillborn left-field timeshare really deserves a group mention here, but while Los Angeles may have chosen to stick a fork in the position, at least its other two tines—Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames—project to earn positive value. Gwynn can’t hit, so he has to be truly extraordinary in the field to merit a roster spot, which FRAA doesn’t think he succeeded in doing last season. With Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier holding down center and right, respectively, Gwynn doesn’t figure to play much at the outfield’s more demanding positions, but he’ll likely be the starting left fielder for as long as Jay Gibbons can’t see. Since even a sighted Jay Gibbons doesn’t present much of an obstacle, Gwynn stands to see significant time. Unless he rediscovers the competent stroke he exhibited in 2009 or turns in another defensive performance FRAA can be proud of, that’s not good news for the Dodgers, who might soon find themselves missing the “Mannywood” sign.

While I attempted to look at the positives for Gwynn recently, I did so with a fair bit of wishcasting and plenty of “if’s”. If he can overcome a horrendous 2010. If he can hit at even a mildly acceptable a level. With Gibbons out, Gwynn will get the bulk of LF duties to prove himself, and I hope for everyone’s sake that he can do it, but it’s not hard to see where the doubt comes from.

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Yes, Jonathan Broxton “blew a save” last night, and while I can’t believe we’re even discussing a blown save in an exhibition game, I’ll point out that Ivan DeJesus botched what would have been a game-ending double play, remind you that the winning run scored on a sacrifice fly, and let Jon Weisman’s words describe exactly how I feel:

I’m seriously considering complete abstention from debating the merits of Jonathan Broxton for the time being. The season hasn’t even started, and already the fur is flying about his value. No, he didn’t do his job. Neither did De Jesus, Jansen or Lilly, but no one will question their manhood. I’m willing to admit I’m concerned about whether Broxton’s all the way back from his late 2010 troubles, but I just don’t know if I can spend yet another year arguing about the man’s courage, spine or gumption. It’s completely subjective, and people are just going to believe what they want to believe.

I agree 100% with Jon on this; for whatever reason, the opinion of many towards Broxton is so skewed that if he struck out 99 of 100, they’d be asking what happened with the last guy. Still, I’m not sure I have the strength to do what Jon’s contemplating, and that’s avoiding the topic entirely once the season starts. I’ve been one of Broxton’s staunchest defenders, and even I’ve admitted that his rope is short if he doesn’t get off to a good start. All I ask is that we be fair about it, and realize that minor league second basemen booting ground balls have a pretty big impact on getting outs as well.

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Selected thoughts from scouts on the Dodgers, courtesy of Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“I think they’re going to be offensively challenged, and defensively challenged. The other day, (shortstop Rafael) Furcal was 4.9 running down the line, third baseman bobbles the ball and he’s still out in plenty of time. Saw (Matt) Kemp misplay two balls in the same game recently. He looks terrible in center field. Kenley Jansen is pretty damn impressive.”

“I like Xavier Paul more than the Dodgers do and would keep him over (Jay) Gibbons or (Tony) Gwynn Jr. Paul needs a change of scenery. His bat is OK. He has a good swing and can run the ball down. Hector Gimenez is a just a good-looking hitter. I’d take him as a backup. Ivan DeJesus, he’s stayed inside the ball well. Sands, I like his bat. He has a really nice swing. He looks OK in left field.”

“I think Rubby De La Rosa can pitch there right now and he’d be fine. He was up to 97 and good angle to plate, good feel for changeup, and I think the breaking ball will come. I think this guy’s a starter, and I don’t think he’s far away.”

“I think they’re going to be battling it out for third place with the Padres, and the Padres know how to play better.”

“They could be a disaster with all of the ifs.”

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New ESPN SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield has been putting together preseason All-Star teams for each division, and today he touches on the NL West. Of the eleven spots, four are Giants, and three each are from the Rockies and Diamondbacks. The Padres don’t merit a mention, and only Kershaw (as lefty starter) makes the list from the Dodgers.