How Do We Feel About Moving Andre Ethier?

I know, I know. It’s basically blasphemy to even bring it up, what with his huge step forward last season to be the first Dodger 30-homer hitter since 2004, string of amazing walkoffs, and obvious appeal to the female and non-traditional male fanbase.

I’m not suggesting this is what I would do or that this is what they will do, necessarily. It’s just that with the events of yesterday’s shocking lack of arbitration offers shedding more light on just how dire the Dodger financial situation may be, it’s not a stretch to see this series of events happen. Hear me out on this…

1) The Dodgers are not going to be able to sign or trade for a stud veteran pitcher. Roy Halladay and his $15.75m in 2010 plus the extension you’d need to sign him to? Out, even if you could strike a deal with Toronto. John Lackey and the $80-$100m deal he figures to sign? No chance. This is a team that was too afraid of the 1% chance that Randy Wolf would return for $8m or so to collect the two draft picks; you really think they’re going to be able to go out and afford any quality pitcher? Hell no. So you’re looking at what, guys like Jose Contreras, Kip Wells, and Pedro Martinez? Bring one of them in to see if they can be this year’s miracle retread 5th starter if you must, but you can’t count on them for anything beyond that. So there’s no way a top pitcher is coming to LA who costs more than a few million.  But the problem with not getting a top pitcher is…

2) The Dodgers just can’t start 2010 with Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, and dreams. Kershaw’s a lock, of course, and well on the path to acedom. But after him? I’ve been the biggest Billingsley supporter of just about anyone, but even I can’t pretend I’m not at least a little worried about how his 2009 ended. Kuroda’s solid when healthy, though since he missed time in 2009 with three different maladies, you can’t count on that. Beyond that… can you really see them allowing James McDonald, Scott Elbert, and/or Charlie Haeger to fill out the rotation?  There’s more than a few Dodger fans who would love to see that, of course, but the casual fan and local media would never allow it. The Dodgers have to go out and get a quality starting pitcher somehow, which means…

3) The Dodgers will have to trade for a young, cheap, quality starter. Not a Kershaw-type, of course, but a pre-free agent and preferably pre-arbitration guy who’s shown at least some success in the big leagues. Guys like that don’t come cheap, obviously, so the obvious trade bait – Juan Pierre – isn’t getting it done. As I mentioned the other day when the rumor was floated that the plan would be to trade Pierre for an equally-paid mediocre starting pitcher, it’s impossible to find a fit for him. Regardless of how you feel about his performance on the field, it’s inarguable that his salary is out of line in the current marketplace. Teams can find production equal to his for basically the minimum, so the Dodgers would have to eat nearly all of his salary to move him. They won’t do that without getting a useful piece in return, and even if that happened the guy they get back will hardly be an All-Star. No, if they’re going to get back someone useful, the Dodgers are going to have to give up a valuable piece from a position of strength, and that of course means…

4) The Dodgers still have four outfielders for three spots. The bullpen is strong, but a reliever isn’t getting you a starter. Without any prospects at the top levels to move, the obvious answer is to trade from your overcrowded outfield. Manny’s immovable regardless of whether you want to or not, and Matt Kemp’s clearly taking the steps to superstardom. So it comes down to Ethier or Pierre, and if you’re a team that’s as desperate as the Dodgers appear to be, can you really afford another year of a $10m backup outfielder in Pierre? If you can’t move Pierre for another part, and you can’t pay him to sit on the bench, then you need to make the most of his presence and turn what’s blocking him into the pitching piece you need – so that points to Ethier being the guy to go. I know how that sounds, but keep this in mind…

5) Ethier’s value is probably at the highest it will ever be. I loved watching Ethier this year. Loved him. The clutch hits, the big power, his joy in the game – I mean, just look at the picture on this card – the yoga classes, the Carne Asada outings, the “Dining With ‘Dre” blog – all of it. He’s one of my favorites, he’s one of the vaunted young core, and I don’t want to see him go. But there’s reason to believe that if you’re going to move him, now is the time. For all of his heroics this year, there’s some flaws to his game, as we pointed out in our season review. He’s kind of a lousy outfielder, his OPS actually dropped from 2008 to 2009, and he’s almost unplayable against left-handed pitching. At 28 in 2010 (two and a half years older than Kemp), and coming off of a 31-homer season, he’s likely to make $6-$7m in arbitration this year. That may not be a huge deal for some other teams, but it sure looks like it will be for the Dodgers, especially with so many arbitration cases. Besides, we’ve been hearing for a while that the Dodgers have to trade one of the arbitration guys before they go to the hearing. We’ve all assumed George Sherrill would be the most likely, but what if it’s Ethier instead? So what’s the impact if he’s traded?

6) Trading Ethier won’t create a new roster hole that you’ll need to fill (insert joke about Pierre being a black hole in the lineup here) and it would improve the rotation by acquiring… Well, here’s where it gets interesting. Who has young pitching to spare, a need for a power bat, and the willingness to take on Ethier’s arbitration case? The Giants fit that profile, but they’re certainly not trading with the Dodgers. Besides, if Ethier ended up in a Giants uniform I’d probably throw up my entire endocrine system. Here’s five options that might fit, bearing in mind that A) this is just spitballing, not a hardcore trade analysis, and B) it’d likely need to be more than a 1-for-1 trade to make it work on either side.

Boston Red Sox - Manny’s gone, Jason Bay might follow, and Ortiz/Lowell/Varitek are all declining, leaving the Sox with a need for power along with a big hole in left field. We know Sox GM Theo Epstein has had interest in Ethier before, asking for him originally in the Manny trade. Might they have interest in Ethier for 25-year-old Clay Buccholz, who’s had flashes of success in parts of three seasons (including a no-hitter) but has yet to put it all together? The Sox say they don’t want to deal him, but they do have other young arms coming up behind him, and figure to be the team that gets to take a shot on either Rich Harden or Ben Sheets. Bonus: this is Buccholz’ wife.

New York Yankees – We know the arbitration case would be of no concern to them, and while they don’t neccessarily need power, they do have a very unsettled outfield situation, unless you really consider Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera solid options. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are both free agents, so it’s no surprise they’re mentioned prominently in the Bay/Matt Holliday sweepstakes. Besides, in the Little League field the Yankees just built, Ethier might put out 40 homers there.  I’m not sure how realistic this is, but I’m putting this name out there anyway: Phil Hughes. He’s mostly flunked as a starter (5.22 ERA in 28 starts), but he’s been sparkling as a reliever (1.40 in 44 games). He’s still just 23, and the Yankees say they’re going to make him a starter again. His success in 2009 probably makes him untradeable from the New York side, but he’s worth including here.

Chicago White Sox – Talk about an unsettled outfield situation. The White Sox gave 210 PA to Brian Anderson (67 OPS+), 587 to Scott Podsednik (98 OPS+), 153 to DeWayne Wise (61 OPS+), and 154 to Alex Rios (36 OPS+). In addition, they’ve already said goodbye to Jermaine Dye and his 574 PA. They’re so hard up for outfielders that they just signed that fat slob Andruw Jones, and Ned Colletti and Ken Williams just worked together on the Jim Thome trade this summer. From them, I’m interested in John Danks, a lefty who will turn 25 next spring. Danks threw 200 innings of 3.77 ball last year, after throwing 195 IP in 2008, so clearly he’s a horse the Dodgers could use. The White Sox are deep in starting pitching with Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, and last year’s hotshot Daniel Hudson.

Seattle Mariners – Seattle’s just dying for a power bat. Russell Branyan and his 31 homers may not return, and Adrian Beltre’s likely not coming back, which makes their top slugger 2B Jose Lopez, who might hurt the team with his poor OBP (.303) and lousy defense as much as he contributes in power. With Franklin Gutierrez in CF and Ichiro in RF, the Mariners have a big hole in LF and the ability to handle Ethier’s mediocre defense. Now, before you even say it: no, this is not about Felix Hernandez. But what about Brandon Morrow? Chosen two picks before Kershaw in the 2006 draft, Morrow’s had his development stunted a bit by the Mariners constantly jerking him between starting and relieving. Still, in parts of three seasons he has a 109 ERA+ and 9.3 K/9. Morrow’s probably not enough for Ethier, but I’ve always been a huge fan.

Atlanta Braves – Atlanta’s nearly as cash-poor as the Dodgers, so I don’t consider them likely, but I can’t ignore a team dying for a power outfield bat with starting pitching to spare. The more I look, though, the less a fit I see. They’d love to move Derek Lowe, but the Dodgers aren’t paying him $45m over the next three years, especially with how mediocre he was last year. Javier Vazquez is on the block and was outstanding last year, but he’s made his distaste for the West Coast clear. I won’t suggest Tommy Hanson, who’s basically Kershaw-level for them, but if there’s any chance at Jair Jurrjens, I’d jump at it. He’ll be just 24 this winter, and threw 215 innings of 2.60 ball last year. I’d be surprised if the Braves would be willing to move him. That said, they could stick with a rotation of Vazquez/Hanson/Lowe/Hudson/Kawakami and have an outfield of Ethier/McLouth/Heyward and be very formidable.

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So there you have it. A road map for trading one of our most popular and productive players. Like I said, it’s probably not something I would do, because the downgrade from Ethier to Pierre would be a horrendous disaster on offense, but the combination of Ethier going to arbitration and lack of options to improve the rotation make it seemingly possible. Crazy? Blasphemous? All too real? Let me hear it, or point out trade options I might have missed.