Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of 2012; the Dodgers are fringe contenders at best; their ownership is in flux; and the relationship between team and player is not good.
That makes Ethier a mid-season trade candidate.
Playing in a pitchers park, Ethier has thrived at Dodger Stadium; in fact, for his career, he’s hit much better at home (career OPS .897) than he has on the road (.791). The lefty-swinging Ethier doesn’t hit lefties very well and is a poor defensive right fielder. But if you put him in a hitters park with a predominately ground ball throwing pitching staff (as the Rockies have with Michael Cuddyer), his offensive production would improve and the other factors would mitigate his flaws.
In spite of the flurry of moves the Dodgers have made this winter, they’re not any better than the 82-79 they were in 2011; if anything, they’re probably worse. The NL West is stronger; they can’t expect Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw to repeat their top-of-the-league performances and the rotation is weaker with the departure of Hiroki Kuroda.
Having signed Kemp to a long-term contract extension, the Dodgers made their choice between keeping Kemp and Ethier. Even if a new owner with deep pockets buys the team, there’s little chance that Ethier stays whether Ned Colletti is the GM or not.
A new owner might prefer to bring a more progressive thinker in as GM to replace the old-school Colletti, and by that rationale, they’ll see Ethier’s flaws defensively and lack of ability in hitting lefties as a reason for letting him go. With Colletti and manager Don Mattingly, the relationship is fractured and presumably beyond repair. Ethier missed substantial time with knee issues and accused the organization of forcing him to play hurt.
Given his own history with injuries hampering his career, it’s hard to see Mattingly doing that.
Ethier’s pending free agency and knee problems will be watched closely as the season moves along; if he’s hitting, he’d be a boost to a contending team in need of a short-term bat. The Dodgers probably won’t get anything more than a couple of decent prospects for him, but they’re not contending and if they run the risk of waiting until the end of the season and offer Ethier arbitration to get the draft picks, there’s a chance he’d accept it—that’s the last thing they’ll want.
It’s wiser to trade him and get something tangible; the time to do it is in June or July.