It’s the inevitable truth that every Dodgers fan has been fully aware of but steadfastly denying for months.
It’s that prolonged breakup that stings but is bound to happen one day. It’s the kind of severance that ends with that calamitous cliché: “It’s not you; it’s me.”
It’s time the Dodgers sit down with Andre Ethier and had that talk.
To the average onlooker, it seems absurd for the Dodgers to think of parting ways with their longtime right fielder, who has spent all of his eight major-league seasons with the Boys in Blue.
Ethier’s career stats speak for themselves. He’s a .288 career hitter with .362 lifetime on-base percentage, has hit 20 or more home runs in four seasons and 80 or more runs batted in in three seasons.
After a breakout season in 2009—in which he hit 31 home runs with 106 runs batted in—he was considered one of the best-hitting outfielders in baseball, and the prospects for the future of his career were sky-high.
Yet, four seasons later, there isn’t much talk about Ethier. There are no lofty comparisons to Dodgers legends or all-time MLB greats, no immense praise from TV show analysts.
That in itself may be a disappointment for fans but surely not the slightest of reasons for the front office to decide to part ways with Ethier. In fact, there’s no hype whatsoever about him, but that too is of no concern.
What’s concerning four years later is that Ethier had identical batting averages (.272) and nearly equal on-base percentages (2009: .361; 2013: .360) and came up well short (12) of half the homers he hit in 2009 and tallied just short of half of the runs batted in this past season (52).
To add to that mediocrity, he posted a career-worst on-base plus slugging percentage of .783 this season. That statistic was at .869 in 2009.
It bears noting that Ethier played in 18 fewer games this past season than he did in 2009 due to injury and struggled with injury throughout the 2013 season; however, even when factoring in his injuries, Ethier still had a poor season.
Although his performance in the 2012 season looks good on paper (20 HR 89 RBI .284 BA .351 OBP), Ethier hasn’t been an effective offensive force since the year after his career-best season, when he was selected as an All-Star for the first time.
Perhaps Ethier’s incredible season at age 27 set an unattainable precedent for the remainder of his career and is a dark cloud that will loom over him in that high sky.
Whatever it may be, Andre Ethier has gradually decayed from an electric player to a dull one. It’s been a natural but all too premature process for a 31-year-old player with loads of potential.
While there would have been no doubt that Ethier would remain a Dodger in seasons past, the star-studded new-look Dodgers have the luxury of sending off under-performing players like Ethier.
Not only do they have the power to exercise that luxury but they also have a very practical justification for it: There are four starting outfielders on the Dodgers’ roster.
Fortunately for the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly, the team didn’t have to deal with this surplus during the 2013 season due to scattered injuries to center fielder Matt Kemp and left fielder Carl Crawford.
However, the Dodgers are expected to have all four outfielders back healthy by spring training, which suggests that somebody is bound to be dealt.
The Blue Crew could keep Ethier around as a safety net in center field in case Kemp can’t keep healthy like he did this past season, but that would be a hefty contract for a fourth outfielder.
As ESPNLosAngeles’ Mark Saxon points out, Ethier has $71.5 million left on his contract over the next four years. That’s money that will be better spent reassuring that Clayton Kershaw remains in a Dodgers uniform for the remainder of his career and/or adding another power-hitting infielder.
In the event that the Dodgers hold on to Ethier and the outfield remains healthy, there’s little chance he’ll be content backing up Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig in right field.
That would have the potential to create some detrimental clubhouse friction, as Ethier is not known to be the most affable character.
So, what do the Dodgers do in such a bind?
Ethier has long been a staple in the Dodgers’ outfield. He’s had plenty of memorable moments in a Dodgers uniform, including plenty of clutch walk-off hits amongst his over 1,000 hits with the Blue Crew. Remember that 30-game hitting streak?
There are many reasons to keep Andre Ethier in a Dodgers uniform; there are just more circumstantial reasons to let him go.
So, as the Dodgers turn their attention back to the drawing board as the offseason is officially underway, it’s time for them to finally cut ties with Ethier and continue to progress in the right direction.
The unavoidable can no longer be evaded. Andre Ethier’s time has come.
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