On the one hand, some people complain about baseball effectively having a dead season between Christmas and pitchers and catchers reporting. On the other hand, when there's stuff to think about between Christmas and pitchers and catchers reporting, people can get picky about the timing. "A trade rumor? On New Year's Eve? The nerve of them!" The nerve of you. You either want stuff to think about or you don't. You're not the one in control. Two sentences ago was the word "either". Following is a name that looks kind of like "either".
Hearing— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) have progressed in trade talks for a hitter. Indications it's Ethier. Multiple players involved.December 31, 2012
Why it might be bullshit
First and foremost, let's just acknowledge the elephant -- Churchill is no stranger to passing along incorrect information. I'm not accusing him of doing it intentionally; sometimes one is just given something other than the truth. Churchill is not completely in the dark but he's also not completely in the light. Additionally, for whatever it might be worth, the have seemed reluctant to move Ethier, and after all they're the team that guaranteed him five years and $85 million just last summer. Reports have pegged Ethier as being hard to get.
Why it might not be bullshit
Well, I mean, this isn't necessarily Ethier-specific. "Multiple players involved" means nothing. Taken literally, this tweet means the Mariners have made some sort of progress in some sort of trade negotiations. That's it. But let's stick with the Ethier angle. It doesn't matter what reports have said about Ethier's availability, and it doesn't matter what the Dodgers have said about Ethier's availability. The Dodgers, presumably, are aware of Ethier's shortcomings, and will have some willingness to move him along. The Mariners have money to spend, a desire to land a big bat, and the market doesn't have many remaining options. The Mariners have been linked to Ethier before today, on a few occasions over the past few weeks. If I had to guess, the Mariners and Dodgers have probably had several conversations.
Basically, the Mariners want a hitter, preferably one who plays the corner outfield, and Ethier could be available, since even the Dodgers must realize his contract's too big. And something I forgot to note earlier is that the Dodgers have a surplus of starting pitchers, and the Mariners would like to add one of those, too. We're talking about Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, who are both veterans and who are both all right. On paper, there's a match here, and the Mariners could get themselves up closer to their 2013 budget.
Would it be worth doing, from the Mariners' perspective?
That question is presently impossible to answer. Because, of course, it depends on what the Mariners would have to give up, and on how much money the Dodgers would include, if the Dodgers would include any money. Ethier's starting that five-year contract and I wouldn't want for the Mariners to guarantee him those terms as a free agent. Until more is known about what might not even be a legitimate rumor, it's basically impossible to pass judgment. We'd need to know about money, and we'd need to know about prospects.
Here are the Ethier vitals: he's 30 -- 31 in April -- and left-handed. He's a right-fielder, and he was traded to LA from Oakland in exchange for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez. Both of those guys once being Mariners property! Not that you'd want to tell Milton Bradley he was ever property of anyone. Here's what Ethier's contract does:
2013: $13.5 million
2014: $15.5 million
2015: $18.0 million
2016: $16.0 million
2017: $17.0 million
2018: $17.5 million club option, $2.5 million buyout, guaranteed with 550 plate appearances in 2017 etc.
Over the past three seasons, Ethier has posted a 126 wRC+, putting him around guys like Kevin Youkilis and Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson. His career mark is 124, and so he's clearly a good, productive offensive player. What's interesting is his lack of balance. Over that same three-year span, Ethier has been baseball's ninth-best hitter against righties. Against lefties, he's been worse than Casey Kotchman and Yorvit Torrealba. Ethier has recently posted massive platoon splits, and he also less recently posted massive platoon splits. Ethier has demonstrated that he just can't hit southpaws, and he's faced them well more than a thousand times.
That's a problem. Another problem is that he doesn't appear to add value on the bases. Another problem is that he doesn't appear to add value in the field. I'm trying like hell to keep UZR and WAR out of this, just for your own convenience, but we can at least say that Ethier isn't a good defensive outfielder, meaning his value comes from his bat. His bat is good against most pitchers, but woefully inadequate against some. Ethier has historically been "unclutch", possibly due to opposing managers getting him to face lefties in high-leverage situations. Or possibly due to nothing! You can't dismiss the possibility of nothing!
It isn't fair to get too wrapped up in what Ethier doesn't do well, since he has been incredible against righties and most pitchers are righties and hitting is important. Andre Ethier is a good baseball player. But if the Dodgers actually value him highly, the Mariners shouldn't be too insistent, because Ethier does have drawbacks and a big contract that didn't consider those drawbacks enough. Maybe the Dodgers don't care; the Dodgers can afford it. But if the Dodgers look to move Ethier, they'll find that other teams are less willing to pay the price. Other teams don't literally pick money out of the corners of their eyes when they wake up from a nap.
It makes sense that the Mariners would sniff around Andre Ethier, because Andre Ethier would make sense at a certain cost. Beyond that, nothing's known, but it makes sense that the Mariners would go back to the Ethier well at this point in the offseason, especially if they're not interested in Michael Bourn, or if they're getting bad vibes from Bourn's representation. Ethier is a platoon corner outfielder on the wrong side of 30. Ethier is one of the game's very best hitters against most of the game's pitchers. I expect these points have come up.