Trade Proposal: Andre Ethier to the Mariners

USA TODAY Sports

With too many outfielders to play at once, the Dodgers seem primed to find a trade partner. In the Seattle Mariners, the Dodgers may have the perfect fit for outfielder Andre Ethier.

The Los Angeles Dodgers outfield felt crowded this past season. The team incurred what managers often call a "good problem to have," a 25-man roster with four outfielders who all deserve starting roles. This would have become a more visible issue throughout the season had Matt Kemp not continually injured himself, thus leaving manager Don Mattingly three starting-caliber outfielders and one injured outfielder. Kemp's injuries, to his ankle, hamstring, and shoulder, left Mattingly with left fielder Carl Crawford, and two right fielders in Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig. While Puig has the athletic ability and speed to play center field, his lack of experience left him as a raw talent in need of refinement, so in order to keep him comfortable, Mattingly placed Ethier in center field.


With the offseason in full swing, and the Winter Meetings looming, numerous pundits and writers have begun to discuss what Ned Colleti and the Dodgers should do about their overly crowded outfield situation. Not only does the club have four starting outfielders for three spots, but three of the four have sizeable contracts, and the club has a young outfield prospect in Joc Pederson who mashed his way through double-A (155 wRC+) and will soon reach the majors. No matter which way we look at the Dodgers' situation, the club has extra outfielders, and even though the free agent market for outfielders has significant depth, numerous teams might be willing to trade for either Kemp or Ethier, the two names that pop up most frequently as trade possibilities.

David Schoenfield of the SweetSpot Blog at ESPN commented on the Dodgers' outfield situation, essentially coming to the conclusion that the most likely trade candidate of the bunch is Andre Ethier.

Everyone expects the Dodgers to trade an outfielder this winter. Most likely Andre Ethier. Maybe Matt Kemp. Probably not Carl Crawford since nobody really wants Carl Crawford. And definitely not Yasiel Puig, because he's Yasiel Puig.

As far as major league outfielders, Carl Crawford's massive contract combined with his recent injury history, age, and skillset make him the least likely of the bunch to move teams. This could work out well for LA since Crawford finally looked healthy in 2013, showing a mix of speed and power that was good enough for a 2.9 fWAR in 116 games. LA knew the type of contract and player Crawford would be when the team acquired him from Boston, and retaining him represents the reality of the situation.

When it comes to considering trading young phenom Yasiel Puig, Mike Petriello put it best in his piece on the situation that appeared on Fangraphs.

After the splash Puig made, it's difficult to see the Dodgers antagonizing their fan base or finding a realistic return.

Essentially, given the cons of Puig's game, his immediate and immense popularity in Los Angeles, and the uncertainty surrounding him moving forward, the Dodgers would find it difficult to justify trading Puig for the return they might receive, or even justify it at all. Moreover, unlike Crawford, Kemp, and Ethier, Puig is on the upside age-wise, and with the skillset he already possesses, he represents the proper amount of risk for a team like the Dodgers to take moving forward.

Petriello discusses the idea of trading all of the outfielders mentioned above, and his statement concerning Matt Kemp rings true.

Speaking of antagonizing your fan base, Kemp remains extremely popular among the Dodger faithful, but his increasingly fragile nature might make it easier for them to swallow such a move. It couldn't be simply a salary dump, however, and that's what makes any Kemp move unlikely.

The prospect of moving Kemp might solve the logjam issue for the Dodgers, but trading him brings up the same impediments stopping the team from moving Carl Crawford like recent injuries, huge contract, and age, but add on the fact that the such a move would most likely alienate the Dodgers fan base as Kemp represents LA's favorite son.

If the club could make a deal to move Joc Pederson, it might solve some of their future issues, but given that Pederson has yet to play one inning in the majors, LA couldn't expect to have as much leverage in negotiations, and more importantly, it would not solve the current outfield problem. Given Kemp and Crawford's recent propensity for winding up on the disabled list, and Pederson's minimal salary, he represents the best fill in option for an injured outfielder at least by mid-season 2014.

All of this represents a nice process of elimination that leaves Andre Ethier. Ethier is 31 years old, has a sizeable but not hugely inflated contract, and provides a club with a decent left-handed bat in the middle of the batting order.

PA

K%

BB%

BABIP

wRC+

fWAR

2011

551

18.70%

10.50%

0.348

122

2.7

2012

618

20.10%

8.10%

0.333

124

3.0

2013

553

17.20%

11.00%

0.315

120

2.9

Ethier's stats from the last three seasons give us a solid picture of his abilities at the plate. Ethier has offensive capabilities that come in at about 20% better than league average, a decent eye at the plate, and some diminishing but still relevant power. Ethier's most impressive offensive characteristic is his dependability. Ethier can be counted on for at least 550 plate appearances, a 120 or greater wRC+, and about 145 hits per season. Since 2008 Ethier has put up similar wRC+ numbers to fellow outfielder Matt Kemp, the Rays' Ben Zobrist, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, and Angels OF Josh Hamilton.

Defensively, it's important to remember that despite his placement in 2013, Ethier is a corner outfielder. While he does not possess the requisite range or speed to play center field, Ethier has improved his defense in right field, enough that he's put up 10 DRS since in RF since 2011, and even a 6.3 UZR over the same time frame. Without a doubt, the team that would acquire Ethier in a trade would not place him in center field, but would keep him in right where he actually provides positive defensive contributions. Either is not a stolen base threat, but he has put up average UBR numbers throughout his career, making him at least passable on the base paths. Basically, Ethier's overall profile is a solid right fielder with above average offensive capabilities, and dependably durable numbers.

Ethier did recently sign a contract with the Dodgers that comes with some cost. He signed a 5-year $85 million with an option for a sixth season that would take make Ethier 35-years-old at the end of the fifth year. While the AAV comes out to $17 million, the contract will pay him as follows:

Salary

2014

$15,500,000.00

2015

$18,000,000.00

2016

$18,000,000.00

2017

$17,500,000.00

2018

$2,500,000.00*

*$17.5 million club option with $2.5 million buyout

While Ethier's contract isn't gargantuan in magnitude of dollars, given his skillset, he'll and his age, by 2017, there is a greater likelihood he won't be worth his salary than he will. Still, with only four guaranteed years, and an AAV that looks like this in terms of value:

$5M/Win

$6M/Win

$7M/Win

3.4

2.83

2.43

If Ethier can continue his recent annual value on average over the course of the next four seasons, he will prove worth his salary.

Now that we have determined the most viable outfielder for the Dodgers to shop, the next step in examining the situation is to find a suitable team to acquire Ethier. Essentially, a team in need of a middle-of the-order hitter that can take on some additional payroll, and has a spot in a corner outfield spot fits the bill. In perusing the league in search of said team I came up with two options: the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners. While the Orioles could use a third outfielder, the more likely rout for the team, especially given a few arbitration eligible players in line for raises, the O's would more likely pursue an upgrade to the club's starting rotation.

That leaves the Mariners, a team that Petriello mentions in his piece.

The most likely, and also the most discussed; Ethier reportedly came very close to being sent to Seattle last winter.

According to MLBDepthCharts.com, the Mariners current starting outfield going into 2014 would include Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, and Abraham Almonte. As an overall package, Andre Ethier represents an upgrade over all three of these players. Moreover, the Mariners have made known that the team wants to increase payroll, and while acquiring free agents would allow the team to do so without also giving up players in return, the club could easily afford both options.

So, what would a trade between the two clubs look like? Here's what I propose:

Dodgers trade OF Andre Ethier and $10.5 million to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen and INF Chris Taylor.

The Mariners would receive Ethier as well as $10.5 million, which would pay for Ethier's 2018 buyout, as well as shave off enough money from each of the other four years to make the AAV for Seattle come out to $15 million. Petriello agrees with the notion that any trade partner, even one like the Seattle that wants to increase payroll, would want the Dodgers to eat some of Ethier's remaining salary.

For many teams, the idea of paying Ethier approximately $17.5m per year for each of the next four seasons is a turnoff, though as a reliable two-to-three win player, the Dodgers shouldn't have to eat an obnoxious amount of cash to make this reasonable.

In return, the Dodgers can pluck from Seattle, two pieces the Mariners can easily part with. The Dodgers currently have Hanley Ramirez set to play shortstop, and with rumors that the Ramirez and the Dodgers are looking to sign an extension, LA would prefer to move Han-Ram to third base and put a better defender at shortstop moving forward. Chris Taylor represents the perfect replacement for the Dodgers at shortstop.

According to Baseball Prospectus' prospect guru Jason Parks, Taylor is a serviceable middle infielder who can hit and run.

Taylor is the type of prospect I've traditionally overlooked; he plays the game with skill, but the overall profile isn't sexy and I like sexy. Do not overlook Chris Taylor! He might not end up being anything more than a second-division player, but he can bring a lot to a team with his glove at shortstop and his speed, and the bat might lack punch but he's going to battle at the plate. This is the type of player who sticks around the game for a decade or more, and will most likely have a better career than a healthy chunk of the sexy prospects who get more attention, including the ones ahead of him on this list

When you add in the facts that Mariners youngsters Brad Miller and Nick Franklin currently block Taylor at both second base and shortstop and that Taylor put up good numbers in the Arizona Fall League, moving Taylor for Ethier makes sense for both teas. The Dodgers have filled their second base vacancy with Alexander Guerrero, but Taylor would represent a cheap and controllable option for the Dodgers at shortstop, an option who projects to get on base with enough abilities to swipe 20 to 30 bases a season. Acquiring a cheap option at shortstop as well as shedding some money by trading Ethier would give the Dodgers the financial room to extend Ramirez and give Clayton Kershaw the historically large contract that he has earned.

The addition of Wilhelmsen in the deal also makes sense for both clubs. After some subpar performances in the closer's role in 2013, the Mariners replaced Wilhelmsen as their closer with Danny Farquhar. Given that the Mariners also have hard throwing righty Yoervis Medina in the bullpen to set up for Farquhar, Wilhelmsen, the oldest reliever of the bunch, is a moveable part. The Dodgers have a decent bullpen, but no team would ever complain about acquiring a cheap, hard throwing, controllable, reliever with prior closing experience.

As far as outsider-proposed trades like this one go, sending Andre Ethier to the Mariners fits better than most. Either would man right field for the Mariners for the foreseeable future at a rate closer to his actual worth, while the Dodgers would solve their outfield logjam problem while simultaneously giving themselves a decent option at shortstop. The only major issue in this deal comes down to whether the Mariners would pull the trigger on moving a decent prospect when the team could easily acquire outfield talent to improve their lineup via free agency without giving up prospects. Still, so much of this deal works solves numerous issues for both teams that the two sides should at least discuss such a transfer.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference.

Ben Horrow is a writer at Beyond The Box Score and The Good Phight. You can follow him on Twitter at @Summerpastime.

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