The Boston Red Sox have not yet landed the type of big-name player that can define an offseason. That would change if they traded for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier. However, such a move would be a risky one.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports Ethier could possibly be made available, and if he were, the Red Sox could be one of the interested teams.
Rosenthal was quick to point out that the Dodgers aren't actively shopping the left-handed hitting outfielder but are willing to listen to offers. He believes a trade would allow Los Angeles to move Matt Kemp to right field and potentially pursue a center fielder like free agent Michael Bourn.
The New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand countered by tweeting the Dodgers might be more interested in going after free agent Nick Swisher if Ethier were dealt.
Source: Dodgers shopping Andre Ethier. If they deal him, they could be in the mix for Nick Swisher.— Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) December 18, 2012
Ethier, who will be 31 at the start of next season, is owed $85 million over the next five seasons, plus an additional $17.5 million in 2018 if he were to reach certain vesting thresholds.
Rosenthal speculated that any team taking on Ethier would be remiss to not ask for a discount: “Whatever the Dodgers’ intentions, it seems doubtful that any team would take Ethier’s new contract in its entirety.”
Even if the Red Sox could get the Dodgers to eat some of Ethier’s salary, they should still view his addition with extreme caution.
The left-handed hitting Ethier can play either corner outfield spot. If the Red Sox acquired him, it would either necessitate the trade of Jacoby Ellsbury, or force newly signed Jonny Gomes to a much stricter bench role than was originally anticipated.
Ethier has never been a strong defensive outfielder. Although he won a Gold Glove in 2011, he did so with a minus-0.2 dWAR. Many of his defensive stats that season were slightly above average—for the only time in his career.
FanGraphs.com has a number of advanced metric showing Ethier’s poor arm and range. His career rARM (Outfield Arms Runs Saved runs above average) of minus-21 reflects how runners can take advantage when he’s throwing. Meanwhile, his career RngR (Range runs above average) of minus-23.9 suggests it’s best to have a rangy center fielder playing beside him.
Fenway Park, known for its tricky outfield, seems like it would be a poor fit for a fielder of Ethier’s caliber.
Despite being paid like a full-time starter, Ethier’s numbers indicate he may be more of a platoon-type player. He has career batting average/OBP/OPS splits of .311/.387/.913 against righties and .238/.296/.649 against lefties.
The Red Sox can ill afford to have another full-time player who can’t hit lefties. Victorino (.229/.296/.629), Stephen Drew (.198/.260/.563) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.170/.211/.494) are all expected 2013 starters who struggled mightily against southpaws last season.
The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn recently wrote about his own trepidation regarding a potential Boston trade for Ethier:
The Red Sox should not pursue him without a hefty cash advance coming with him from Los Angeles. At that salary and with that platoon differential, he won't be a cornerstone of The Next Great Red Sox Team, unless the price is better than it is right now.
It’s fair to question if Ethier can continue producing as he ages. He’s been remarkably consistent over the past five seasons, posting an OPS+ between 121 and 133 in each of those years. However, it’s not unreasonable to think he may decline as he moves into his mid-thirties.
Ethier's friendship with former college teammate Dustin Pedroia could increase the chances that he is pursued by the Red Sox. He has even spoken in the past of a possible reunion, which would also match up with Boston’s emphasis on creating a positive clubhouse environment.
Regardless of any possible good vibes or past production, the Red Sox should tread carefully with Ethier. He might make a big splash in the short-term, but that could turn into a dull thud over the life of his lengthy contract.
Statistics via BaseballReference