The offseason has been abound with rumors that Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier might be traded. GM Ned Colletti repeatedly squashed them, but reports surfaced that both the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners were interested.
The Dodgers seem content to head into the season with a starting outfield of (from left field to right) Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Ethier. And on the surface, they should be.
As recently as 2010, Crawford put up a seven-win season, by fangraphs.com’s WAR metric. Kemp finished second in the MVP voting in 2011, and Ethier, while never reaching those heights, has been solidly above average for every season of his career.
However, the Dodgers are currently locked into their outfield through 2017, as that is when both Crawford’s and Ethier’s contracts expire.
Crawford is probably not tradeable. It’s been two years since he was valuable at all, and he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and played in just 31 games last season. Even if the Dodgers could somehow find a trade partner, he likely wouldn’t fetch very much in return.
Ethier, on the other hand, is a different story. While none of the rumors really specified what the Dodgers wanted in return, it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption to say that—given his more current track record and cheaper contract—he has more value than Crawford does.
Ethier supporters would likely argue that given his consistent production (an OPS above .800 in six of his seven seasons), the Dodgers would be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement. And while in the short-term that may be true, a slightly longer-term approach shows that they would be better off with the extra roster spot. This past offseason, Nick Swisher and Josh Hamilton were available, but the Dodgers didn’t have a place to put them if they made an offer.
In 2014, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran and Corey Hart will be free agents, and the Dodgers’ deep pockets would enable them to go out and sign one of those veterans.
An alternative route would be to hand the job to Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, who Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently ranked as the 79th-best prospect in baseball. While Puig undoubtedly isn’t ready yet, the assumption is that at some point soon he’ll be a productive member of the big league roster.
The idea here isn’t to say that Ethier is a bad player. He’s certainly not—he’s posted a WAR above 2.0 each year of his career—but he does have limitations. He’s not a great defender, as seen by baseball-reference.com’s defensive metrics, which have him worth -45 runs over the course of his career, and he has always struggled versus left handed pitching.
Over the course of his career, Ethier has posted a .649 OPS against lefties, as compared to .913 against righties. This brings to light another problem, which is that Crawford also struggles against lefties, with a .688 OPS. It’s very difficult to manage a lineup with two everyday players that struggle against left-handed pitchers.
In the end, trading Ethier would give the Dodgers some badly needed roster flexibility. As it is, they are locked in to long-term contracts at most positions, and Ethier has enough trade value that swapping him would be worth it in the long run.