2194 Words on Andre Ethier, Michael Bourn, and Trade Value

ethier_vs_bravesOn New Year’s Eve, Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider caused a bit of a stir when he tweeted ”hearing Mariners have progressed in trade talks for a hitter. Indications it’s Ethier. Multiple players involved.

As you can imagine, that got everyone all excited, because Andre Ethier is a big name, and any time any sort of half-credible rumor comes up involving a fan favorite, people are going to get excited. I say “half-credible” not to impugn Churchill, though he’s not really known for breaking trade news, but because this news isn’t necessarily ”news”. Despite the insistence of some national writers that the Dodgers haven’t been involved in trade discussions for Ethier, if you’ve been paying attention, I’ve been saying here for weeks that they have — specifically with Seattle & Texas. In my book, that gives Churchill’s report somewhat more credence, though it’s difficult to know if negotiations really have moved forward or if he’s just getting older info out now.

Either way, it’s clear that the Dodgers and Mariners have been discussing Ethier, and whether it happens or not, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve been doing so. The Dodgers considered signing Josh Hamilton and trading Ethier. They considered signing Nick Swisher and trading Ethier. Now, it’s Michael Bourn, who is the only outfield option left that would make moving Ethier even a possibility.

Whether signing Bourn and trading Ethier makes sense depends on two things; first, your opinion of Bourn’s value as opposed to Ethier’s, since they’re very different players, and second, what sort of return the Dodgers could expect in exchange for Ethier.

It’s that second part which is going to be more difficult to parse, because there’s an absolutely enormous gap between the value of Andre Ethier as seen by the common Dodger fan, and as seen of Ethier within the industry. The Dodger fan sees one of the longest-tenured players, a guy with more than his share of huge hits for this team, a “Gold Glover”, a homegrown talent — well, sort of — who is one of the most popular players in uniform, and they think “superstar”. But that’s not at all how his trade value is going to be seen by other teams. While he’s obviously a talented hitter who crushes righty pitching, he’s also a guy on the wrong side of 30 who offers limited defensive value, is unplayable against lefties, has continued injury concerns and occasional battles with management, and a huge contract that was panned by almost everyone outside of Los Angeles.

That’s the guy who the Dodgers are offering in trade, and that means that expectations should be limited. That means that no, he’s not bringing back Felix Hernandez — not that he’s available anyway — and he’s almost certainly not going to bring back Kyle Seager, who would be a great solution to the Dodger infield problem. (That’s less about Ethier than it is about the fact that the entire point of this for Seattle is to fix their atrocious offense, and moving one of their few decent hitters would be counterproductive. Free agents won’t take Seattle’s money to hit in that park, so they’re forced to try to trade for one.)

In one of Churchill’s many tweets on the subject, he opines that he heard the discussed deal would have four players coming from Seattle and two headed north from the Dodgers, and that aligns exactly with what I’ve heard. Unsurprisingly, Ethier would be joined by an excess starting pitcher — Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang —  but the identity of the Seattle foursome changes each time I hear about it. The two pieces of it that rarely change are lefty Charlie Furbush, 27 in April, who was one of the best lefty relievers in the American League last year in his first year in the bullpen (2.81 FIP, 53/16 K/BB in 46.1 IP) and one of the several impressive Seattle starting pitching prospects. No, that wouldn’t be Taijuan Walker, who is probably one of the five best pitching prospects in all of the minors, but more likely James Paxton or Danny Hultzen, who are thought of in the #3-5 range of Seattle prospects.

The other two seem to be in flux. Just last week at FanGraphs, I wrote about how the additions of Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, & Kendrys Morales this winter make for a huge 1B/LF/DH logjam in Seattle, given that Justin Smoak, Casper Wells, Mike Carp, Eric Thames, Michael Saunders, & Jesus Montero are all already in the picture. They’re going to need to alleviate that mess somehow, especially if they’re adding another outfielder in Ethier, and so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Wells (a righty outfielder with pop who is a good defender at all three positions) or Carp (who is out of options and doesn’t hit righty, but who can play first base and corner outfield) find their way into the deal. The last player could be another, lesser, prospect, or it could be that the Dodgers do want to add a fantastic defensive shortstop (if a total black hole at the plate) in Brendan Ryan, because you know I didn’t just write about him last week out of the blue.

If a pitching prospect, lefty reliever, bench player, and a zero-bat shortstop — I should point out here we have no idea how much money the Dodgers might send along to cover Ethier as well, which would be a huge component of any deal — doesn’t exactly sound like enough of a return for Ethier, you wouldn’t be alone in that opinion; the casual fan, who likely wouldn’t have heard of Paxton/Hultzen and focuses only on Ryan’s batting average, would howl.

But if such a deal does happen — and again, we’re indulging in speculation and somewhat-informed opinion here, because we don’t know what a final deal would look like or if it even will happen at all — it’d be important to remember that it couldn’t be looked upon solely as “Ethier traded to Seattle”; since the Dodgers would almost certainly only pull the trigger if Bourn was committed to coming, it would have to be seen as part of a larger move in which this kind of complicated overall math would need to be completed:

Ethier OR Bourn plus [Seattle trade acquisitions] plus [moving Matt Kemp to RF] minus [first round pick]

An added complication here is not knowing what kind of contract Bourn & Scott Boras would command, because while his market is very limited right now, he’s also almost certainly going to want more per year than B.J. Upton got in his 5/$75m contract with Atlanta. If the Dodgers are going to be throwing in some money for Ethier as well.. well, I don’t think anyone wants to be putting $100m or more between Bourn & Ethier to make this happen. Then again, the Dodgers don’t seem to care about money these days and the figure here is impossible to speculate on with any accuracy, so we’ll set that aside for the moment.

The first round pick falls into similar territory for me. While I obviously prefer to hang onto those valuable picks whenever possible, I’m not against losing it as a strict rule. I hated the idea when the Dodgers kicked around bringing back Hiroki Kuroda because I felt it was foolish to do so for one year of a 38-year-old pitcher; it’s different for several years of a valuable outfielder, and especially so if the value of the prospects coming from Seattle help replenish the system nearly as much anyway. It would be portrayed as the Dodgers “losing a pick to sign Bourn,” but it really could be seen as being part of the overall transaction here.

So that leaves us with the idea of what is better for the Dodgers in 2013 and beyond: Ethier in right field, or Bourn in center, Kemp in right, and holes filled by the Seattle additions. And I have to say, it’s a lot more difficult than I anticipated to choose between those two scenarios.

The appeal to keeping Ethier is obvious. He might only do one thing well, but he’s really, really good at it: crushing righty pitching. Copying myself from a few weeks, ago, “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.” That’s not just good, it’s elite, and considering that there’s more righty pitching than lefty pitching in baseball, there’s considerable value to that. As I’ve begged for over the last four years or so, if you just accept he’ll never hit lefties and find him a decent platoon partner, his overall line will make him look like a star and we’ll all be happy to sit back and watch him rake. That’s the kind of player that’s very difficult to give up.

But whether the team has been unable or unwilling to do so, that platoon partner has never materialized, and it’s becoming a problem that his great production against righties won’t mask. Word is out, and Ethier saw far more lefty pitching than ever last season, nearly 40% of his plate appearances. That’s not a number which is likely to decrease without the Dodgers actively keeping him away from southpaws, and after more than 1,100 career plate appearances against lefties, any hope of him learning to hit them should be long gone.

If you’re choosing Bourn, you’re going with a player who is unquestionably inferior to Ethier with the bat. Bourn’s .326 wOBA last year was just a touch off his career high of .330; Ethier’s worst season, back in 2007, was .341. Ethier gets on base more and provides considerably more power; no one is going to argue that.

Of course, Bourn brings value in ways that Ethier can’t even consider. He’s stolen at least 41 bases in each of the last five years, twice topping 60; Ethier has 21 in his entire career. By FanGraphs‘ “Ultimate Base Running” stat, he was 10th in MLB in 2012 and 2nd over the last three seasons. In the field, most would agree that Ethier has improved from “borderline atrocious” to “acceptable” over the last two seasons, but Bourn is universally acclaimed as a very good defender at a much more valuable position. That’s why, despite Ethier’s advantage at the plate, Bourn has been ranked as a more valuable player by fWAR in each of the last four seasons, and of course cumulatively over that time (20.1 to 11.1). He’s also durable, having visited the disabled list only once — and not since 2007 — unlike Ethier, who has been sidelined with various maladies in each of the last three seasons.

You also have to take in account the effect on the rest of the roster. With Ethier, Kemp remains in center and the leadoff spot in the order is a question with no right answer, potentially dooming us to more time with Mark Ellis gritting out grounders to second. With Bourn, Kemp moves to right field, vastly improving the defense at two outfield spots and providing a perfect solution for leadoff. In that situation, you’re maybe looking at a top five of 1-Bourn / 2-Carl Crawford / 3-Kemp / 4-Adrian Gonzalez / 5-Hanley Ramirez, which is pretty appealing. (Also if you care about such things, Bourn & Crawford are longtime friends who played on the same Little League team in Houston, which is a nice bonus.) Plus, you’ve added whatever the return for Ethier would be, which potentially strengthens the bench, defense, bullpen, and farm system.

If it sounds like I’ve completely talked myself into wanting to do this, that’s not quite true, though I admit it’s more and more intriguing the more I think about it. The single most valuable skill in all of these permutations is Ethier’s productivity against righty pitching, and you never want to be the side that’s giving away the most valuable asset. There’s also the concern that as a speed player, Bourn — eight months Ethier’s junior — is more susceptible to aging in his 30s, which is valid, though I’ll admit that doesn’t bother me as much here because we’ve seen few signs of it yet and it’s not like Ethier isn’t also a threat to decline to the point where he should only be a 1B/DH, positions the Dodgers can’t offer — especially with his injury history.

I do think that we’ll have a resolution on this one way or another relatively quickly, because Boras needs to find Bourn a home and I can’t imagine Ethier enjoys seeing his name constantly out there in trade rumors. If it does happen, the specifics that we can’t yet know — who Seattle would send in return, and how the money plays out between Bourn’s contract and covering Ethier — would of course make or break the deal. For now, I can say this: the rumors surrounding Ethier are real, and there’s a very good argument to be made that moving him and signing Bourn improve the club both now and in the future, just as they were valid lines of reasoning when Swisher & Hamilton were the potential targets.

465 comments
Professor Towel
Professor Towel

What were the valid reasons for Swisher? Swisher's contract, if the option vests, it $70m/5 years. Ethier got $85m/5 years, or $3m/year more. Ethier is 1 1/2 years younger than Swisher, and Ethier has better career numbers across the board (BA, OBP, SLG). And that comes with Ethier playing his entire career in a pitcher's park (OPS+ has Swisher at 118 and Ethier at 124).

 

They are both mediocre defensively.

 

Hamilton and Bourn bring valid reasoning to the table. I don't think Swisher did.

dodgerrrr
dodgerrrr

Mark ellis starting next year is fine, but not at the top of the lineup. Bourn isnt a true leadoff hitter, he just runs fast and steals bases. we need good on base percentage at the top of the lineup.  i dont think there is any available though, so i would prefer a base stealer... gordon and crawford. you can bat ellis 9th.

IseeYou
IseeYou

I Can't understand why everyone is down on Mark Ellis starting next year? He is a great clubhouse guy who reminds me of the leadership the dodgers had with Casey Blake.  Not to mention the guy almost lost his leg last year trying to turn a double play and still found a way to recover and return to the team. He will be a great fit in the lineup hitting second in the order behind Crawford who should be our lead-off hitter. My last bone to pick is why would we want to trade Either? The guy is a homegrown talent that has committed to the dodger organization. Last year he considered moving on from the dodgers but management convinced him that he was an important piece to what they wanted to accomplish. Now that they have him locked up there going to shop trading him? If you want to see him struggle keep his name in trade rumors, if you want him to succeed stop taking calls and keep this team focused as I feel they have all the pieces they need to win.

LAboy26
LAboy26

I'd only trade him for a pitching prospect, and Kyle seager

philipp7890
philipp7890

This is just an idea, probably wouldnt work but lets say that the Mariners sign Bourn and give up their first pick in the next draft and then trade Bourn for Ethier (plus some money from Dodgers).

This would result in the Dodgers having a better outfield of Crawford, Bourn, Kemp and having to not give up a draft pick to get Bourn.

Would this work in theory?

jdlsports
jdlsports

I really think Bourn is just another Juan Pierre with a stronger arm and slightly more pop in his bat. Horrible OBP for a leadoff guy. Good defense and stolen bases - which would be even higher if he got on base like a true leadoff hitter should.

JoeyE
JoeyE

cant give bourn 5 years when no other team is even bidding on him

West Coast Ram
West Coast Ram

For the last several years one of the main problems with the Dodgers has been the lack of power in the lineup and to trade Ethier's 20+ home runs for 45+ stolen bases appears to be taking us back to a time when that we didn't like.  I agree with all your points about Bourn defense and the advantage of an instant leadoff hitter but that means we would have 6 batters (including pitcher) in every line up that would be expected to hit less than 10 home runs in a season.  I don't know about the rest of you but I've seen that movie before and I would like to experience a season when we had hitters 2-5 or 3-6 (my preference) that could change the score with a single swing of the bat.  Of course in my lineup AJ would have to hit second and that appears to be a nonstarter for Mattingly.  Crawford may have a less than desirable OBP for a lead off guy but we have him and you have to bat him somewhere.

MSTIer: Jake
MSTIer: Jake

A couple of thoughts

 

First of all, I'm sure this has been brought up, but Yasiel Puig is important in this. Bourn is going to want, I assume, 5+ years. Puig should be ready within 3 years I assume. So Bourns presence would create a blockage, while Id be fine with giving Ethier up for prospects in a few years when Puig is ready.

 

Secondly, I am not a fan of acquiring brendon ryan especially for ethier. Couldnt Justin Sellers provide the same thing? Sure hes not AS good as Ryan but it seems like a superior option when you consider sellers comes free. 

 

Finally, I doubt Kemp would support moving to right field. Players dont really like being forced to move when they've been with the team for a while. For example, Hanley wasnt a fan of moving to third for reyes as was clear when he immediately went back to shortstop when he came to LA. 

The Monocle
The Monocle

Scott Proctor, you guys remember him? LOLOLOLOLOL.

Paulstralia
Paulstralia

Has Kemp talked at all about whether or not he plans to steal bases in 2013? 

Guitar
Guitar

Mike, let's hypothesize that they sign Bourn.

Do you think he would take over Kemp's position?

I know that the initial reaction is "Ah, haaale naw. Kemp has seniority, is The Man, etc..."

But (and NO OFFENSE, seriously, but...) Kemp crashes into walls like a rookie.

Professor Towel
Professor Towel

 @IseeYou Because Mark Ellis is 35 and has been mediocre the past two seasons - .253/.310/.354 - and four of the last five seasons...

 

Not saying we don't like him, but he just isn't a very good player anymore.

DustinJohnHanson
DustinJohnHanson

 @IseeYou I don't know who is down on Mark Ellis. We have low expectations of him and he certainly performed beyond what we expected of him in 2012. However, he is not a leadoff hitter and he should find a platoon partner for when he has to face tough righties. Crawford is not a leadoff hitter and Ellis should not be batting anywhere near anyone's "top of the order". He is a defense first player. The best leadoff hitter for this team is Hanley Ramirez.

 

Andre Ethier is NOT home grown talent. We traded away Milton Bradley and got back some kid named Andre Ethier. The only way management was able to convince Ethier to stay was to massively overpay him. He should indeed get traded, even if we just put Yasiel Puig in right.

Professor Towel
Professor Towel

 @philipp7890 There is some rule related to this - I think teams aren't allowed to trade players they signed in free agency until June or July.

AdrianGarcia57
AdrianGarcia57

 @philipp7890 we would have to give up top prospects because they just wasted a 1st round pick on signing a guy who wont even play for them (the pick is somewhere in the teens)

JoeyE
JoeyE

at least other than seattle who would have Andre in theory. who else would be in on him?

Professor Towel
Professor Towel

 @darknesssss Hanley didn't immediately go back to shortstop when he came to L.A., he only moved there when Dee Gordon got injured and went to DL.

 

Puig is important to the Dodgers future, but whether it is Bourn or Ethier blocking him for 5 years doesn't really seem to matter. If Ethier can be traded, so could Bourn down the line (or Crawford, maybe).

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@darknesssss I we can trade Ethier for prospects in a few years, why can't we do the same with Bourn? It's not like Ryan is the centerpiece, he's just a piece of the puzzle.

Chris Jackson
Chris Jackson

 @darknesssss Your biggest assumption here is that Puig pans out. He is very, very raw. I was quite surprised when Ned said that he will open at Chattanooga. I have a feeling that if he has a bad spring, he'll be back at Rancho. And even then, there's no guarantee he will be up in X years. We've heard all offseason how people want a long-term SS/3B; well, what about Corey Seager? Why would the Dodgers block him? Well, it's because they want to win now. Teams have some focus on the team 3-5 years down the line, true, but for the most part they're focused on the next 1-2 years, especially the Dodgers with what they are spending now (ditto the Angels, and usually the Sox and Yanks). The Dodgers have the mentality of "we'll do whatever it takes to win in 2013 and worry about 2015 and beyond later." Almost every team thinks this way (insert Pirates don't joke here). While teams might have an uber prospect coming, until that kid is right on the doorstep, teams tend to not worry about blocking him, if it helps them win now.

Paulstralia
Paulstralia

 @darknesssss Hanley was already pissed at Florida and was looking for a reason to feel disrespected. I don't think Kemp would hold a grudge if it improves the team. He just wants to win. 

Hoagiebum
Hoagiebum

 @The MonocleI do not laugh at any gnat signings. They just seem to have some magical way of turning has beens and very ordinary players into stars up there. Must be something in the water.

 

Professor Towel
Professor Towel

 @Guitar Absolutely, without question, Bourn would be playing in CF. His defense in centerfield is a huge part of his value as a player.

 

That being said, I doubt the Dodgers trade Ethier and sign Bourn without checking with Kemp and confirming he is OK with moving to RF. With the injuries he suffered playing defense last season, I doubt he would protest.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @JoeyE Texas.  Maybe Phillies.  That's probably it.

West Coast Ram
West Coast Ram

 @DeucesWild

 I'm very aware of the '88 team and if you think that formula can be reproduced your crazy.  For the same reason we put very little concern in SF repeating you just can't count on catching lighting in a bottle.  The thing that money will buy us if they are smart is a trip to the playoffs each year, but what it can't ensure is a WS trophy.

capnsparrow
capnsparrow

 @DeucesWild  @West Coast Ram that goes for just about every ear we ever won anything. Pitching, defense, and speed are the keys to winning in Dodger Stadium. Always has been always will be.

Weston Taylor
Weston Taylor

@DBrim We won't be able to trade him for the same reason he's not getting signed now. Teams dig the long ball.

MSTIer: Jake
MSTIer: Jake

 @Chris Jackson right, the dodgers already are blocking puig. they have ethier, kemp, crawford all long term. So I'm saying hold onto those three before you go ahead and trade ethier to sign bourn. I dont think Bourn is better than ethier anyways. 

Batted Bob
Batted Bob

 @Chris Jackson  @darknesssss The Royals have spent the last decade waiting for prospects to pan out. They got burned enough times that their patience ran out and now Wil Meyers is a Ray.

DeucesWild
DeucesWild

 @The_Real_Paul  @darknesssss Kemp even said he'd be willing to move to left field when the team got Victorino. Kemp is a good dude looking to win, not a headcase

PF Flyers
PF Flyers

 

 @dodgersdan I drink that Kool Aid too.

My point is that the gnats of the last three years won with (arguably) the best pitching staff around. They certainly did not win because their "dominant" offense.

Professor Towel
Professor Towel

 @PF Flyers 

Kershaw > Cain

Greinke = Bumgarner

Billingsley = Vogelsong (come on, that guy can't keep pitching like he has)

Beckett = Zito

Ryu ? Lincecum (who knows if Lincecum will rebound or Ryu will succeed in the majors... this matchup may decide who has the better rotation)

 

Our bullpen can match theirs. Jansen is as dominant as Castillo or Romo. League, Belisario, Elbert, Howell, Guerra, Guerrier (when healthy) are all quality arms. And we've got Tolleson and Rodriguez in reserve, both high upside guys.

PF Flyers
PF Flyers

 @West Coast Ram  @DeucesWild

 but they have two titles.... in three years..... and you cannot make the case that their offense is that good. (outside of Posey, its not) That pitching staff, on the other hand, is hard too beat.  That has been the consistent part of the giants plan. I like Kersh and Greinke, but from starting five, to 7 relievers, its hard to say the Giants don't have the  best pitching staff in the major leagues

West Coast Ram
West Coast Ram

 @capnsparrow  @DeucesWild

 I don't remember defense or speed being part of Manny game which was exactly how we won most recently.  I'll give you that historically that style may have been the key for the Dodgers but the game has changed. Our pitching will be good and the defense will be above average so again I wouldn't trade the power for a small upgrade in defense. 

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

@darknesssss @DBrim Dre hasn't been healthy since 2009 w the pinky injury. And he ain't getting any faster. Puig can push Crawford to the bench, if he can.

Batted Bob
Batted Bob

 @darknesssss  @DBrim played bad defense and won a gold glove because voters look at HRs and batting average and webgem highlights to vote on the gold glove.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Sorry, 9 wins.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@darknesssss 10 wins over the last four years. That's a lot.

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

@darknesssss @The_Real_Paul @Bob Meripol @DBrim Kemp kinda hit the wall last year. (TOO SOON?)@DavePomerantz @Mike @Guitar

Paulstralia
Paulstralia

 @darknesssss  @Bob Meripol  @DBrim  @DavePomerantz  @Mike Defense is one of Bourn's most valuable assets. Putting him in right means you're minimizing the return on your investment. Kemp was never really meant to play center field. He's fast and athletic enough to pass as average, but he just never had a feel for reading the ball off the bat. As concerns about his health and mobility increase, moving him to right takes some of that strain off of him and lets him focus on hitting DINGERS. 

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@darknesssss @DavePomerantz @Mike @Guitar Congratulations. Yet again, you've made me feel old.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@darknesssss @DavePomerantz @Mike Petriello @Guitar Why?