Over the last 365 days since signing that deal, Ethier is hitting .263/.340/.401 with 15 homers in 603 plate appearances, giving him only a .322 wOBA. Unlike Matt Kemp, who also has had a pretty lousy calendar year, Ethier doesn’t have a particularly serious injury to point to as a reason. He’s just been, well… mediocre.
You want to know who is right ahead of him on the wOBA list over that year? You don’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway. There’s Cody Ross, who signed with Arizona for 3/$26m. There’s David DeJesus, who signed with the Cubs for 2/$10m. There’s Ike Davis, who is now in the minor leagues. (Mercifully, Ethier is just barely ahead of Josh Hamilton.) He’s been called out by his manager, and we’re to the point where we’re seeing comps between Ethier and Vernon Wells, and while I think that’s more than a little unfair, you can at least see the argument.
So… how’s that deal working out over the first year?
In retrospect, I probably should have just stated my initial opinion and been done with it, because back in February of 2012, I actually had nailed the terms he’d eventually get. At the time, the thought of such a deal was terrifying:
there’s a big difference between a deal for, say, 3/$36m (which I’d certainly love to do) and something more like 5/$85m (which I’d run away screaming from)
I determined his closest free agent comparable to be Jason Bay, and that should have probably been enough to just shut down the entire thing right there. But in the interest of full disclosure, by the time Ethier actually signed in June, I had softened on the idea, calling it a defensible move that was “market value or something close to it”.
That’s probably true, but looking back, I may have let the off-the-field aspects of the deal cloud the baseball value of it more than I should have. Remember, this was the first big signing under new ownership. No one had ever even heard the name “Yasiel Puig“ at that point. Hanley Ramirez was still in Miami, Zack Greinke was in Milwaukee, Brandon League was in Seattle, and the idea of actually getting Adrian Gonzalez or Carl Crawford seemed like a laughable fantasy at best. Hamilton looked like the only impact bat available on the upcoming open market, and I doubt any of us wish the Dodgers had ended up inking that deal.
There were definitely some reasons to think this made sense, particularly with Ethier’s popularity and the new owners looking to gin up some good in-season feelings, and so we may have slightly let that desperate attempt for positive vibes after years of McCourt nightmares allow us to to be influenced somewhat.
So while I’ve long wanted the flawed Ethier to be traded while his value was highest — I’ve probably said so for about three years now — I can’t in good conscience look back and say that this deal was a terrible idea from the moment it was signed. (It wasn’t just us, either; this review of the deal from Dave Cameron at FanGraphs decided that while it was an overpay, “this just isn’t something that anyone should get all that worked up over.”) It was certainly not a team-friendly deal, but considering the other options available and deep pockets of new ownership, it didn’t seem like an anchor, either.
But I will say that I never saw it working out quite like this, either. We all know the Dodgers tried to trade Ethier over the winter, and when that didn’t work, we figured he’d at least be a slightly above-average lineup piece while we waited to see what would happen with Crawford, Puig, and Kemp. If we had the usual Ethier, the deal still wouldn’t have been great value, but we’d probably have been okay with it.
We don’t have the usual Ethier though, do we? While there’s some amount of bad batted ball luck at play, since his peripherals aren’t all that far off his career norms, the last few years really do look like the work of a man who has seen his peak and is on the other side of it as he enters his 30s. Throw in his questionable defense, total inability to hit lefty pitching, reports that he’s not exactly the most popular guy in the clubhouse, and the Mattingly benching, and you’re left with someone who isn’t exactly at the peak of his trade value.
And I do think he’ll be traded, by the way, especially now that Crawford has shown some life and Puig’s talent is for real. But I don’t think it will be soon — how can it be, with everyone else injured and Scott Van Slyke actually getting regular playing time before he was hurt — and I don’t think it will be for a return that the casual fan will be pleased with. One popular idea that gets thrown around a lot is Ethier for Ian Kinsler, since the Rangers in theory need an outfielder and have too many infielders with the emergence of Jurickson Profar. I’d do that in half a heartbeat… but there’s little reason to think the Rangers ever would.
No, when Ethier gets traded, it’s going to be in a deal that has the Dodgers eating at least half of his salary and getting some decent-but-hardly premium talent in return. Considering how integral to the future Ethier once was, it’s sad to think about like that, but it’s also almost assuredly true.
So much can change in the space of a year, can’t it?