Stop me if you've heard this before, but there's talk of the Seattle Mariners acquiring a big-time bat.
The rumor mill actually has the Mariners looking at a couple big-time bats at the moment if you want to get technical about it. Word is they've talked to the Miami Marlins about Giancarlo Stanton, but Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier may be more their speed—not to mention far more realistic.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com hasn't heard anything new in regards to a potential deal between the Mariners and the Dodgers, but ESPN's Buster Olney wrote on Wednesday that the Mariners have been calling the Dodgers "repeatedly" about Ethier.
This doesn't mean a deal is forthcoming. In fact, Olney noted that the Dodgers are planning on having Ethier in right field on Opening Day and that the Mariners haven't even made any offers yet.
Disclaimers aside, this is a case where smoke could indeed lead to fire, as the Mariners and Dodgers do appear to be a pretty good match for each other.
The Mariners need for some pop in their outfield and in the middle of their lineup. That's something that Ethier, who has hit at least 20 home runs in four of the last five seasons, could provide.
For their part, the Dodgers could be willing to swing Ethier for some of Seattle's young pitching. The Dodgers could sweeten the deal by throwing in one of their excess starting pitchers, namely Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang, to coax the Mariners into including either an extra prospect or a member of their current major league roster in the deal.
It also couldn't hurt for the Dodgers to clear all or most of the $85 million they owe Ethier over the next five years, as his contract looks like something of an ugly duckling next to the other contracts they've accumulated over the last year.
If a deal does get done, the gratification for the Mariners will be instant, for they will have added a second middle-of-the-order hitter to a lineup that desperately needed a couple upgrades.
Ethier would fit well in front of Kendrys Morales, perhaps in the No. 3 spot with Morales in the cleanup spot. Because the No. 3 spot in the lineup produced a .686 OPS and the cleanup spot produced a .675 OPS in 2012, the Mariners will have upgraded their run-scoring capabilities in a significant way.
Furthermore, inserting Ethier and Morales into the middle of their lineup would allow the Mariners to move Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager lower in the order, where there would be less pressure on them to produce.
Combine this with the potential of Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders at the top of the lineup and the incoming fences at Safeco Field, and the result would be a much stronger Mariners offense than fans both in and outside of Seattle are used to seeing.
With Seattle's offense poised to be improved in 2013, the AL West would become less top-heavy than it is right now with the Oakland A's, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers stationed as the clear contenders in the division. The Mariners wouldn't be on their level—not on paper, anyway—but they would at least be capable of rattling some cages.
The red flag for the Mariners would be their new middle-of-the-order duo's clear weakness against left-handers. Ethier has a .649 OPS for his career against southpaws, and the switch-hitting Morales is traditionally better against right-handers than he is against left-handers.
The response on the part of the A's, Angels and Rangers could be to shore up their left-handed pitching depth, but the operative word here is "could." The A's, Angels and Rangers already each have multiple lefties in their respective rotations, and both the A's and the Angels already have a couple quality left-handers in their respective bullpens.
As such, the top three teams in the AL West could just do nothing in response to the moves the Mariners have made. They'd recognize that the Mariners have merely caught up in the division's arms race, not upped the ante.
Merely catching up the the AL West arms race could be good enough for Felix Hernandez, however. With Ethier penciled in to be a primary offensive supporter for the next five years, Seattle's ace could prove more willing to sign an extension that would keep him in town beyond the 2014 season, when his current contract is due to expire.
If the Mariners were to sign Hernandez to an extension, they could then opt out of their current TV deal with ROOT Sports after the 2015 season (see FanGraphs) and shop for a new deal worth more money they could invest in their on-field product. With Hernandez and Ethier in place as cornerstone stars, they could very well end up landing an upgraded TV contract.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, an Ethier trade would leave the Dodgers with a hole in their outfield and maybe as much as $85 million lying around that they could spend to fix it if they so choose.
And knowing the Dodgers, they surely would spend that money to shore up their outfield. More than likely, that would be Michael Bourn's ticket to the City of Angels.
Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported in December that the Dodgers were shopping Ethier with the idea in mind to deal him and then sign either Bourn or Nick Swisher. With Bourn still out there, the Dodgers could make signing him a reality if they were to trade Ethier to the Mariners.
If they were to sign Bourn, the Dodgers would then shift Matt Kemp from center field to right field. Such a move would help keep his legs fresher, and he has both the athleticism and the arm to a Gold Glove-caliber defender in right field.
Bourn already is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. Per FanGraphs, he led all major league center fielders in both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. For his career, he owns a 50.5 UZR and a DRS of plus-66 as a center fielder.
With Bourn in center, Kemp in right and Carl Crawford in left, the Dodgers would have the pieces for an elite defensive outfield. Their pitching staff, which is very deep after the additions of Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin this winter and Josh Beckett over the summer, would approve.
In addition, Bourn would shore up the club's leadoff spot, which was a constant source of frustration in 2012. Dodgers leadoff men posted a mere .281 OBP, tied with the Mariners for second-worst in MLB.
These things considered, the Dodgers would be a more well-rounded team with Bourn than they would be with Ethier, and that's not music to the ears of the rest of the NL West.
Which is the ideal tandem for the Dodgers?
The San Francisco Giants could do something to respond to the move, but they likely wouldn't. They've made very few changes to their championship roster this winter, thus indicating pretty strongly that they believe that what held true in 2012 will hold true in 2013.
Besides which, there'd be no obvious moves for the Giants to make, as they're short on expendable trade assets, and none of the top free agents after Bourn would fit well in San Francisco.
The more interesting ripple effect of Bourn signing with the Dodgers would be on the 2014 free-agent market. It's slated to feature two top center fielders in Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury, and neither of them would be able to look forward to landing a monster deal from baseball's most free-spending team.
Watching all these various ripples come to life would make for a good bit of fun at a point in the offseason when fun is hard to come by, so I'll be honest and say that I'm hoping something does end up getting done between the Mariners and Dodgers.
I'm not counting on it, though. Judging from Olney's report, the Dodgers aren't desperate to move Ethier, and the Mariners may think they can do better than him. They'll only make music if the price for Ethier is reasonable, and the Dodgers will only make music if they get an offer they can't refuse.
That's a recipe for a hard set of negotiations, so don't hold your breath.
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