Did the Los Angeles Dodgers Overpay for Andre Ethier?

Jeff Spiegel@jeffspiegelContributor IIJune 12, 2012

You know which word I've come to hate? "Overpaid."

What the heck does it even mean? Overpaid in relation to what?

Anytime someone signs a contract, there's an expert out there who's going to claim that some team overpaid for some player. This week, that team is the Los Angeles Dodgers and that player is Andre Ethier.

Reports surfaced late Monday night that the Dodgers and Ethier were nearing an agreement on a five-year $85 million deal with a vested option for a sixth year if he were to reach a minimum number of plate appearances.

Almost overnight, reports from websites such as ESPN came out calling the contract an overpayment, which bringing us back to the original question of what that even means.

Are they saying Ethier was overpaid compared to his production? Compared to other alternatives?

I just paid $4.29 a gallon for gas. Did I overpay for that gas?

Absolutely. There's no way I should be paying that much every time I want to fill my car up.

Then again, what was my alternative? All of the other gas stations cost the same (or more), and if I wanted to drive my car I needed to pay someone $4.29 a gallon. Sure, I could walk, ride a bike or take the bus, but none of those are necessarily practical alternatives.

In Ethier's case, the $17 million he's getting a year is equivalent to the $4.29 a gallon. Sure, maybe it's more than Ethier is worth as far as production goes (I don't necessarily think so, but some do), but if you can't get the same production for cheaper, then the idea of "overpaying" needs to be re-evaluated.

With a relatively weak crop of unrestricted free agents set to hit the market this offseason, the Dodgers brass had some critical decisions to make. The option to let Ethier walk after the season was surely on the table, however, the question needed to be asked about what they would do next.

With no real prospects knocking down the door to the big leagues, the Dodgers only options to remain competitive were to re-sign Ethier or wait until summer to compete with the rest of the league for a limited number of available bats.

Knowing the aggressive nature of free agent bidding, it's safe to say the Dodgers wouldn't have done much better on the open market. Say the price for a guy like Mike Napoli soared over $100 million, then what? Would the Dodgers do best to come home empty handed and replace Ethier with Tony Gwynn Jr.? Would fans sleep well at night thinking, "well, at least we didn't overpay anyone!"?

The answer is a clear and resounding, "no." The Dodgers needed a bat to pair with Matt Kemp for the next five years and for the money they spent, the odds of getting someone better than Ethier were slim.

That leads us to the question of what kind of production the Dodgers can expect from Ethier over the life of the contract. For a couple of reasons, I believe the Dodgers can be prepared to get their moneys worth.

First of all, he's already established in Los Angeles and is a known commodity. Anytime you bring a new player in, there's a bit of anxiety in waiting to see if he was simply a product of the previous system or if he'll have trouble adapting to new surroundings.

With Ethier, the fans and players already know him and they know (for the most part) what they can expect from him moving forward.

Secondly, while many people are concerned about the contract extending until Ethier is 35 (possibly 36), some wonder how productive he can be that late in his career.

The good news is that Ethier's style of play isn't one that should regress much from its current state. Every player eventually gets older, slows down and loses some strength, but the nice thing is that Ethier's speed and athleticism aren't how he makes his money.

As someone who hits for average, drives in runs and has above-average power, Ethier shouldn't see many of those areas dip too much in the next five years. If he played the game like Dee Gordon or Matt Kemp, then there would be reason for concern, but I think Ethier's production should hold up until 2017.

So while the definition and meaning of "overpaid" remains vague and unclear, here's to hoping Ethier justifies his contract crystal clearly.