Andre Ethier: Is the Los Angeles Dodgers Right Fielder Underrated or Overrated?

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIJune 16, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 04: Andre Ethier #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers bats against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 4, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Dodgers 5-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed star outfielder Andre Ethier to an $85 million, five-year deal through 2017, it placed the seven-year veteran into the top 20 in annual salary among major league outfielders.

Over the next few years, the graduated increases could lift him into the top 10.

But are the guys who are ahead of him on the list like Jayson Werth, Jason Bay, Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells, whose salary tops the list at $24.1 million per year, worth more than Ethier?

Where does this somewhat unassuming right fielder really stand among today's stars?  Is he, in fact, a star, or just a solid, everyday player?  Where would you rate him?

For those who have watched him play second fiddle to superstar center fielder Matt Kemp, Ethier's monetary success is long overdue.

An overachieving college player whose coach at Arizona State University said he didn't have what it took to be a Division I player, Ethier has shown time and again that he is worthy of his elite status in the majors, far exceeding the negative valuation placed on him in his early years.

This year in particular has been a coming-out party for the sweet-swinging lefty who bats in the middle of the Dodgers' order. Currently batting .314, he has alternated with Rockies star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez as the National League's RBI leader.

Before Kemp went on the DL with a hamstring injury, their one-two punch led the Dodgers to the best win-loss percentage in the majors, and the two of them were at the top of the list in RBI production.

While he will never replace Kemp's five-tool superstar play, Ethier provides a stalwart offensive presence in the Dodger lineup, and one can see why his teammates once nicknamed him "Captain Clutch."

Over his career, Ethier has shown flashes of brilliance, some of them even history-making. After three consecutive years of batting .284, .305 and .292, and averaging over 25 home runs per year, he broke into the 2011 season with a 23-game hitting streak, setting a major league record for the month of April.

At that point, he seemed to have also broken the barrier leading to stardom. But that was also a year of controversy when he played with an injured knee, and after playing in the All-Star game, he finished the year on a down note.

Entering this year, there were questions about his ability, his desire and his importance to the team.  There was even trade talk.

But 2012 has shown that Ethier is one of the best outfielders, if not players, in the game. Even the ever-growing achievements of Kemp have not been able to overshadow his success.

Most surprisingly is how Ethier has not wilted during Kemp's absence. Despite a week or so of terrible hitting (he had two hits in 26 at-bats at the beginning of June), he continues to come up big in clutch situations. One of the those hits was a grand slam home run.

Ethier will never be a loud, flashy, here-I-am-look-at-me type of player despite his obvious talent, his Hollywood address and good looks. But his financial upgrade matches his ability and should the Dodgers actually continue their ride atop the NL West, he should get a lot of credit for the team's success.