Andre Ethier has made it very clear that he doesn't see himself with the Dodgers past this season. On Monday, following the Dodgers spring training game, Ethier said that "a lot of signs" are pointing towards that endgame.
Ethier commented that his salary is increasing, and he's been "lucky" to be with one team as long as he has. Ethier has played his entire career with the Dodgers. He is a lifetime .291 hitter with a .363 on-base percentage.
Ethier is entering the final season of his two-year, $15.25 million contract. Because he does not yet have six years in the majors, he would not become a free agent until after the 2012 season. In order for the Dodger to keep him past this season, they would either have to sign Ethier to a long-term deal or head to arbitration, where he would almost certainly get a big raise from the $9.25 million he'll make this season.
That puts the Dodgers in a tough spot, as they lack significant power in their lineup, making Ethier either very valuable or very expensive, depending on your perspective. Last season, he batted .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI, and Los Angeles would be hard pressed to replace those numbers if he left.
In 2009, while managing the Dodgers, Joe Torre labeled Ethier "a leader" on the team, and he responded by delivering 31 home runs and 106 RBI. In all honesty, if the Dodgers had wanted to sign Ethier to a long-term contract, they would have done so back then.
Unfortunately for Ethier, he is his own worst enemy in this situation. The better production he gives the Dodgers, the less likely he'll receive a new contract. Rather than risk arbitration, the Dodgers could non-tender Ethier, much like they did with catcher Russell Martin this offseason.
If that happens, I know a team that's going to need a right fielder very soon—the New York Mets.
The questions of the Mets finances are of course the first issue here. With another good season, Ethier could be looking at a Jason Bay-type contract (Four years, $66 million). Though General Manager Sandy Alderson has said publicly that the Mets' payroll is already "significantly higher" than he wants.
And while the Mets have between $50-60 million in expiring contracts before next season, it's unclear how much, if any, of that will be put back into the team.
Pretend for a moment, though, that the Mets would be interested in adding a player like Ethier. Well, that shouldn't be too hard to do, since basically every team would jump at the chance to add him, including our pinstriped friends on the other side of the river.
Ethier will turn 29 on April 10, so he's still well in his prime. He did miss time last season due to injury, but for the most part, has been a very durable player.
One road block to signing Etheir, along with finances, would be the depth of the Mets' farm system. While they don't have superstar prospects, the Mets do have several young outfielders in the minor leagues, including top prospect Fernando Martinez, Lucas Duda and Kirk Neuwenheiss.
If he becomes a FA, should the Mets pursue Andre Ethier?
While having depth in minor leagues is definitely something the Mets enjoy, none of those prospects bring the reputation of Ethier with them. Not to mention Martinez has never been able to stay healthy and it's unclear what Duda would do with a full season of work.
While the Mets would love to have Ethier, adding a starting pitcher would be a much better move. Mike Pelfrey is set to be their No. 1 starter this season, while Johan Santana continues to recover from shoulder surgery. After Pelfrey, the Mets face four big question marks.
Adding Ethier wouldn't answer those questions, but it would free up some of the Mets prospects for a trade to acquire a starting pitcher.
For now, the Mets roster seems almost completely set heading into this season. They face a ton of questions and nobody is expecting much, including the fans. But they've been known to pull off a surprise every once in a while.
Maybe adding Andre Ethier could be one of them.