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.