Andre Ethier Near Contract Extension with LA Dodgers

Jeff SpiegelContributor IIJune 12, 2012

When Matt Kemp signed his eight-year, $160 million contract just before the start of the 2012 season, all eyes turned to free-agent-to-be Andre Ethier.

According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, however, Ethier's wait for a contract extension approaching its end.

Heyman reports that Ethier, 30 years old, and the Dodgers are nearing a five-year, $85 million contract extension that would keep Ethier in Dodger Blue through 2017, at which time he will be 35 years old.

Dylan Hernandez from the LA Times is reporting that the deal will break down as follows: $13.5 million in 2013, $15.5 million in 2014, $18 million in 2015, $18 million in 2016 and $17.5 million in 2017. In 2018, the team has a vesting option for $17.5 million or a $2.5 million buyout if Ethier hits a given number of plate appearances.

The wait on Ethier's extension has been an interesting one for Dodgers fans, considering his roller-coaster ride both on and off the field

From 2008 to 2010, Ethier was one of the top outfielders in baseball, hitting .288 with 74 combined home runs and driving in as many as 106 runs in a season. In 2010, in fact, he had a Kemp-esque start to the season, leading the entire National League in all major hitting categories well into the season before injuries derailed his production.

While trying to play through the pain of a finger injury, Ethier's numbers eventually slumped before he decided it was time to shut it down and get back to 100 percent.

While he came back more healthy in 2011, Ethier's numbers became very pedestrian, as he seemed to battle a myriad of mental blocks and a knee injury. While playing in 135 games, he hit .292 but belted just 11 homers and drove in just 62 runs.

While not exactly the season he had hoped for heading into his contract year, Ethier has righted the ship thus far in 2012. As the Dodgers' only real constant threat in the batting order with Kemp's hamstring issues, he leads the National League in RBI with 52 and is hitting .292 with 10 home runs through 60 games despite a recent 2-for-30 slump.

Off the field, Ethier has also seemed to clean up his act.

Last season's on-field downturn was mirrored by an incident in which he flipped off a group of photographers for no apparent reason. He also seemed aloof throughout the season with no apparent commitment to a long-term tenure in LA.

With all that behind him, however, Ethier has been a model citizen this season both on and off the field. While some players would surely gripe about their contract situation and the constant rumors, Ethier remained patient while the Dodgers' new ownership group took control and remained open to contract negotiations midseason.

While it would have been easy to test the free-agent market and get the biggest payday out there, Dodgers fans should be thrilled he decided to forgo the frenzy and stay in the Dodgers organization. (That's not to say he's taking a hometown discount, though.)

Sure, $17 million a year for a guy his age is a big number and seemingly risky, but if Ethier can continue to produce, he'll be worth every penny, especially considering the alternatives if the Dodgers were to replace him in free agency.

While many teams have futures that rely upon relatively unknown and unproven prospects, the Dodgers now have two All-Star outfielders to pencil into the lineup until 2017.