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Should Red Sox pursue Andre Ethier?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 18, 2012 10:52 AM

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So I'm abandoning Tuesday's early game-plan to write about the Red Sox' acquisition of Stephen Drew. If you're a fairly regular visitor to this corner of Boston.com you're probably aware I evolved into a defender of his brother J.D. and essentially celebrate the entire Drew family catalog. Yep, even Tim.

I'm cool with the move, Ben Cherington's latest short-term, good-money deal for an established player, and that's that. I've already moved on to the next shiny piece of hot-stove conjecture.

According to multiple reports, the Dodgers are either shopping right fielder Andre Ethier or have at least listened to a couple of offers. Fox Sports's Ken Rosenthal had a relatively reserved report, saying a Dodgers executive told him they have "zero intention'' of trading the two-time All-Star but offered somewhat of a contradiction in acknowledging they will listen to offers.

Thumbnail image for drewstephenfinn1218.JPGRosenthal noted that two American League clubs have inquired, and given that Ethier is a player Red Sox fans have occasionally pined for because A) he's pretty good and B) he's Dustin Pedroia's college buddy, it's natural to wonder whether Ben Cherington has dialed the 323 area code recently. At least for a reason other than reminiscing about or reenacting how the Nick Punto and Others blockbuster came about last August.

So to address the question in the headline, should Ethier be on the Red Sox' wish list this offseason? Seems to me the fundamental part of the answer is easy:

How much cash are the Dodgers kicking in?

While there is some suspense regarding the status of the Dodgers' 25-year, $6-billion television deal, the outlay of $215 million for this year's roster (or rosters -- I suspect they have enough players to form a second team in the NL West) suggests they are not particularly concerned with stashing away $10s and $20s right now.

In fact, there's speculation, or maybe it's more than that, that the Dodgers are indeed open to offers on Ethier because they want to sign Nick Swisher to replace him in right field. Which, exactly, is why the Dodgers should kick in money to move Ethier, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension last June: signing Swisher and losing a draft pick is a more appealing and responsible option than trading prospects for a player whose production is unlikely to justify his salary. (Fangraphs has him valued at $28.5 million total over the past two seasons.)

I'm not suggesting there's little to like about Ethier, who turns 31 in April. His adjusted OPS over the last five seasons has been between 123 and 133, and his career 123 OPS+ ties him for 29th with Jose Bautista and Kevin Youkilis among active players, He's reputed to be an above-average right fielder, though it must be noted that the only season in the past five in which he had a positive Ultimate Zone Rating came in 2011, the year he won the Gold Glove. He has some intriguing names on his career comp list -- Hunter Pence, Trot Nixon, and Youk among them. And he pummels righthanded pitching, putting up a .311 average/.387 on-base/.526 slugging slash-line (.913 OPS) over the course of his career.

Of course, that leads us into his fundamental flaw: he's truly abysmal against lefthanded pitching, with a .606 OPS last season and a .649 career mark (with a hideous .238/.296/.352 slash-line ). For perspective, the worst qualifying hitter in the AL last season in OPS, Oakland's Jemile Weeks, put up a .609 OPS against all pitching. When he's facing lefties, Ethier is on the short list of the worst hitters in baseball. His numbers aren't those of an everyday right fielder. That's a guy who should be the lefty half of a platoon with the likes of Jonny Gomes or Jerry Sands.

Ethier would be a name acquisition that so many are pining for at the expense of recognizing the Red Sox' long-term plan, not to mention that adding a player signed at least through 2017 (there's a vesting option for '18) would quell the conjecture that ownership is setting up to sell. And though I was caught looking with the surprise revelation that Ethier's OPS last season was the same as Mike Napoli's with the Rangers and Adrian Gonzalez's with the Red Sox, he is a good ballplayer.

But unless hitters with an .812 OPS are the new market inefficiency, 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.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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