The Los Angeles Dodgers have a ton of outfielders, and three of them are making ungodly amounts of money. Unfortunately for them, they might be the worst three of the bunch. Ken Rosenthal tweeted out some unsurprising news on Sunday evening, saying that the Dodgers would be looking to deal at least one of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier this offseason.
The Tigers could potentially be in play for all three, but Kemp and Ethier are the more likely options given their previous experience in center field. Since Ethier was a topic in this morning's mailbag, we will concentrate on him for now.
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Ethier is a 32 year old outfielder who was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2003. He spent a couple of years in their minor league system before being traded to the Dodgers for outfielder Milton Bradley. Ethier made his MLB debut with the Dodgers during the 2006 season, hitting .308/.365/.477 in 441 plate appearances. He finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. For the next seven years, Ethier consistently posted above average offensive numbers. He made a pair of All-Star teams in 2010 and 2011, won a Gold Glove, and finished sixth in the 2009 NL MVP voting. He struggled in 2014, though, hitting just .249/.322/.370 in a career low 380 plate appearances.
Why should we care?
He has his issues, but Ethier is, quite simply, an excellent hitter. He put up a .780 OPS or better in each of his first eight seasons, seven of which resulted in a wRC+ of 117 or higher. He has hit 20 home runs or more four times, and has seven seasons with at least 30 doubles. His career walk rate is just under 10 percent while he strikes out just 17.2 percent of the time.
As good as those offensive numbers are, Ethier is doing even more damage against right-handed pitching. He has a career .888 OPS against righties, including 123 of his 145 career home runs. He walks nearly 11 percent of the time against them, resulting in an excellent .383 on-base percentage. Even in a down year in 2014, Ethier put up a respectable .751 OPS against righties.
These platoon splits are particularly enticing because of how the Tigers' roster is currently constructed. Their lineup was predominantly right-handed on most nights, and the Tigers got just one home run from a left-handed outfielder in 2014. Ethier and Rajai Davis could form an excellent offensive platoon in center field, as both have a career OPS above .800 against opposite-handed pitchers.
Why should we stay away?
Ethier may have one of the worst contracts in Major League Baseball. He is set to earn $53.5 million over the next three seasons, and has a $17.5 million team option for 2018 that vests if he has 550 plate appearances in 2017 or 1,100 plate appearances between 2016 and 2017. Add in the fact that Ethier will be 33 years old shortly after Opening Day 2015 and you see why the Dodgers haven't been able to unload him yet.
Then there are the platoon splits. To say that the left-handed Ethier has a tough time hitting against left-handed pitching is an understatement. Ethier has a career .641 OPS against lefties, a far cry from the excellent .888 OPS he has against righties. He strikes out in nearly 22 percent of plate appearances against lefties, well above his 15.6 percent strikeout rate against righties. His .113 ISO against lefties is poor, to say the least (Rajai Davis had a .119 ISO in 2014). These platoon splits wouldn't be a big deal for most players -- especially given Davis' presence on the roster -- but an $18 million hitter should be able to play everyday.
The biggest problem for the Tigers should they acquire Ethier would be on defense. While Ethier has played plenty of center field for the Dodgers over the past two seasons, he isn't particularly good at it. Advanced defensive metrics suggest that he has been a league average defender, but depending on a pair of smallish sample sizes is risky. His larger body of work in the corners suggests that range is an issue, and this would only be amplified in Comerica Park's vast center field dimensions.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It's an interesting idea -- the prospect of an .850 OPS from center field is tantalizing -- but I don't think the Tigers are willing to eat as much salary as would be necessary to get Ethier on a discount. Dave Dombrowski did a lot of work last offseason to improve payroll flexibility, and he still seems to be in a bind this year. Adding Ethier to the mix would only make things worse, and it's no guarantee that a soon-to-be 33 year old actually fills the team's greatest hole in the outfield. Dombrowski's previous experience in dealing with Andrew Friedman is a point in favor of something happening with the Dodgers, but taking Ethier seems more like charity work than anything else at this point.