We’re already on record as being, shall we say, nonplussed by Andre Ethier. He’s a solid enough baseball player, a nice guy to have, but he isn’t the kind of player a smart team needs to spend loads of cash on. Ned Colletti doesn’t apparently read StanGraphs, though, so the Dodgers went ahead and inked their 30-year-old right fielder to a five-year extension worth $85 million. The contract may be worth even more in the long run, as it includes a vesting option worth $17.5 million for a sixth season. The Dodgers will also have the choice of buying that option out for $2.5 million. So, at the very least, Ethier will be receiving $87.5 million over the course of the next five seasons. That comes out to an average of $17.5 million per season.
I was actually afraid the Dodgers would end up paying more to keep Ethier, but the end result is still less than desirable. Per FanGraphs, Ethier has never topped the 3.5 WAR mark in a season. This means that in the most productive year of his career, he was worth $15.8 million. You don’t need me to tell you that it probably wasn’t a good idea to lock up Ethier on a deal with an average annual value higher than that, especially considering that his peak years will be concluding soon as he descends into decline. And those peak years? They’re good, but you’d be hard pressed to find a non-Dodger fan who would say they’re great.
Maybe even more important than what the Dodgers did by signing Ethier is what they may not be able to do. With Ethier and Matt Kemp slated to make well over $30 million a season between them (closer to $40 million in most seasons), even a new ownership group with funds at their disposal is going to find it difficult to compete with what’s currently in the system. The minor leagues aren’t looking particularly fruitful, so if this team is going to win now, they’re going to have to explore the free agent market to do it. And make no mistake about it, the team’s intention is clearly to win now. There’s no way a team would sign a contract like Ethier’s with the expectation that even a partial rebuild is ahead of them.
With Ethier chewing on so much of the annual budget, what does the team intend to do with Clayton Kershaw? Sure, Kershaw’s on a two-year deal at the moment, but he’s a 24-year-old lefty with a Cy Young to his name and another stellar season in is currently in the works. He’s on the short list when it comes to naming the best pitcher in all of baseball. I’ve never really been one to advocate huge contracts for pitchers, but there are few cases for breaking the bank on a hurler more solid than the one you could make for Kershaw. The Dodgers will surely shell out the money to retain their young ace, but that means their team is going to be heavily top-loaded. It’s all but guaranteed that Kershaw, Kemp, and Ethier will be comprising around $60 million of the team’s yearly payroll in no time, and Ethier may not be more than a 2 WAR player before you know it.
The Dodger offense is downright anemic, and Colletti (or a new GM, for that matter) will have to find a way to fix it without having a farm system to rely on. I’ve heard a lot of people throw David Wright’s name in the conversation when speculating on free agent targets for the organization, but Ethier’s extension will make that difficult. Wright has been very up-and-down over the course of his sometimes brilliant career, but he plays third base and is nearly a year younger than Ethier. More importantly, Wright has multiple seasons to his name in which he’s truly been an elite player. Wright has cleared Ethier’s best season by WAR seven times, and that includes his ridiculous start to 2012. He’s a much better player than Ethier, and a much better bet to continue being such.
This isn’t about David Wright, though. He’s just an example of one player better than Ethier the Dodgers could have used their cash to obtain. The Ethier extension also inhibits their pursuit of any and all other free agents, and the team simply doesn’t have the resources to acquire top notch talent via trade. To trade for big-time talent, the franchise would have to give up players helping at the Major League level. That’s not something they can afford to do if they want to win right away, because the starting lineup has too many evident holes as it is. The truth is that Ethier was going to get paid too much by someone through free agency because he’s flat-out overvalued. Unfortunately for the Colletti, he saved everyone else the trouble and took the bait himself.