I had been planning to write about the ongoing interest in Joel Hanrahan this morning, but thanks to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, there’s more pressing matters to discuss: his report that the Dodgers are shopping Andre Ethier and might then be in the mix for Nick Swisher. (We’ll get back to Hanrahan and the bullpen tomorrow.)
To be honest, I’ve heard behind-the-scenes grumblings about the Dodgers being more than willing to move Ethier for a while now out of a few places, but I never had quite enough to make a big deal out of it. That makes the reports that Don Mattingly assured Ethier he wouldn’t be traded either a lie from the manager or a fabrication of the media. Whether it’s the contract that no one outside of Los Angeles seemed to like, his complete inability to hit lefty pitching, his increasing injury concerns, or his notoriously prickly personality, I have no doubt the team would be completely fine with moving him in the right deal. (Though what I haven’t quite been able to figure out is the fact that unlike guys like Juan Uribe or Matt Guerrier, this contract isn’t a leftover from the McCourt era that they’re stuck with; this deal was signed with the new ownership in place, and it’s not like any of those flaws weren’t well-known at the time.)
I’ve felt that some of that was unfair, because part of it has to be on management for being either unable or unwilling to do what I’ve been begging them to do for at least four years now, and that’s to simply find Ethier a solid righty platoon bat. No matter how hard they try to pretend like he will, he can’t hit lefty pitching and he’s never going to. But that shouldn’t obscure just how productive he is against righty pitching, where he’s one of the most dangerous bats in the game. Even last year, when he struggled for months at a time, he had the 7th highest wOBA against righties of any other player, better than Josh Hamilton or Giancarlo Stanton or Joe Mauer or Chase Headley. Over the last three years, he’s 9th; over the last five, he’s 7th. If you just stop forcing him to face lefties and keep him in only against righties, it’s not hard to imagine a .310/.360/.510 line, which is outstanding.
That does raise the question of whether you want to devote $85m (over $100m if he hits that easily attainable sixth-year option) to a platoon player who is average at best in the field, and that’s totally fair. He’s a very productive player if used right, but you can clearly upgrade over him if you have the money, and the Dodgers, as you may have noticed, have the money. That Ken Rosenthal report from last week that indicated Josh Hamilton reached out to the Dodgers? Mostly true, except that I believe there was somewhat more interest in both sides than was reported, and if Hamilton hadn’t landed with the Angels – and likely, seen his market fall to a more palatable contact length — that would have put Ethier on the move as well. (It’d also have caused the entire internet to collapse in upon itself.)
All of which brings us to Swisher. He’s two years older than Ethier, but there’s a lot to like about him. Using fWAR, he’s been a more valuable player in each of the last four seasons, partially due to the fact that he’s regarded as a decent outfielder, while Ethier is seen as being average to below. He can also play first base, which makes him a perfect fit for the needs of the current roster, and perhaps most importantly, he’s a switch-hitter, which eliminates the huge platoon problem Ethier brings.
In fact, there’s more than a few people who prefer Swisher to Ethier. This morning, Craig Calcaterra of NBC’s Hardball Talk asked “If you were considering trading for Andre Ethier, why would you not simply sign Nick Swisher?” — more on that in a second — and in August, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs invoked Ethier’s deal when looking at Swisher’s impending free agent status:
However, there is another recently signed outfield contract that Swisher can aim for, and is far more realistic – the one the Dodgers just gave Andre Ethier. Here’s Swisher’s last three years compared to Ethier’s last three years.
Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR Swisher 1,717 0.274 0.364 0.481 0.365 126 10.4 -5.3 10.6 Ethier 1,595 0.288 0.361 0.453 0.351 122 -4.9 -3.2 8.0
Now this is a comparison Swisher can win. Their offensive numbers are pretty similar, with Swisher having a slight power edge over Ethier, and he grades out as a significantly better defender, though their reputations probably don’t line up with the defensive metrics. Still, Swisher can point out that he’s at least Ethier’s equal, and perhaps a little bit better, depending on whether you give him extra credit for playing in the AL, how you evaluate his defense, and how much extra credit he should get for durability. Working against him is the fact that Ethier is one year younger, but overall, most of these minor adjustments should come close to canceling out.
So, the contract Swisher needs to be pointing to isn’t Werth’s 7/126, but instead Ethier’s 5/85, and then he can argue from there that he should get a premium because Ethier’s deal was signed in-season rather than in free agency. Even though he was only a few months away from free agency, he still divested some personal risk by signing early, and presumably took a little bit of a discount in order to be rid of the injury/performance risk over the final three months of the season.
To be clear, the rumor here is that the Dodgers are open to dealing Ethier, and that’s very true. The part about Swisher is, for now, just people putting pieces together, because dealing Ethier makes sense only if you have another outfielder lined up. Last week, that might have been Hamilton; now Swisher is the best available piece. I can’t say with any certainty that the Dodgers have discussed Swisher — though I don’t believe for a second he’s really going to land in Cleveland, where he’s been having talks this week — but it makes sense. Hell, Swisher’s not the only outfielder available, because if you’re clearing a spot, Michael Bourn makes a lot of sense to fill the giant hole at leadoff the Dodgers always seem to have.
This morning, Ken Rosenthal chimed in on interest in Ethier:
Source: Two AL teams asked about #Dodgers‘ Ethier. Team has “zero intention” of trading him but will listen. Full story coming soon.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 18, 2012
I can say with a great amount of confidence that the two teams were Seattle & Texas, and that gets us back to Calcaterra’s question of why you’d trade for Ethier when you could just sign Swisher. The Mariners & Rangers have been perhaps the two biggest losers of the winter so far, with Seattle failing to do anything that might upgrade their atrocious offense and Texas whiffing on every potential addition from Zack Greinke to Justin Upton before losing Hamilton to their biggest rival. Why would you trade for someone when you could sign someone? When you can’t get anyone to sign with you and your trade target does not have a no-trade clause.
Still, even if you prefer Swisher to Ethier, there’s downside here for the Dodgers. In any Ethier deal, you have to assume they’re paying some portion of his contract, so take that expense in addition to what Swisher would cost, which assuredly would not be cheap. Then you have to include the negative that Swisher would cost the Dodgers their first-round pick because he was tendered by the Yankees, and the fact that Ethier remains a very popular player among Dodger fans.
Really, the only way this makes sense for me is if you can trade Ethier for something really good that helps this year, then replace him with Swisher, and that seems unlikely to happen. I’ve already seen Dodger fans salivating over Felix Hernandez or Mike Olt or Kyle Seager, and none of that seems likely unless they’re paying nearly 100% of his contract (and even then, stop thinking about King Felix.) Perhaps you could turn this into a bigger deal if you include Dee Gordon and one of the extraneous starting pitchers, but even then I have a hard time seeing Gordon & Aaron Harang as being very valuable trade chips. Again, it’d depend all on the money.
Rosenthal says the Dodgers have “zero intention” of trading Ethier, but I don’t believe that for a second, because it’s ludicrous; in fact, I know of at least one deal they have on the table for him. (I can’t say what it is right now, but I hope it doesn’t happen.) That said, there’s so many moving parts here and questions about whether it’s worth it, so while Ethier is far from untouchable for me, I still put the odds at better than 50/50 that he’ll be the starting right fielder in Los Angeles on Opening Day. But if a potential Ethier trade makes the team better, I’m all for it.