Off Base
Maybe it's time to trade Ethier

May 24, 2011, 11:38 a.m. I started thinking about Andre Ethier’s worth to the Dodgers immediately after the finger incident. No, not the injured pinky of last year, the other finger incident; the misdirected middle digit of last week. It looked like it was pointed right at me, after all.

Prior to the issue at hand, I thought about an Ethier exiting when the L.A. right fielder floated the notion himself, on the eve of Opening Day, in what seemed like an obvious fit of jealousy, following Chad Billingley’s three-year $35 million contract extension.

That silliness came just days after Ethier suggested he’d like to become a team leader. Silliness and leader don’t generally appear in the same sentence, by the way, but more to the point, it reminded me of a line from Citizen Kane.

With Orson Wells’ green-but-eager Charles Foster Kane character exclaiming, ”I think it would be fun to run a newspaper,” financial overseer Mr. Thatcher, not even trying to contain his sarcasm, piped up with “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper! I think it would be fun to run a newspaper!!”

A baseball team leader – a leader in any field of endeavor – doesn’t say casually, “I think I’ll be a leader today” because clearly, it would be fun to be a leader. A leader leads. A leader doesn’t share his intentions with the uninvolved. He just goes out and does it. And a leader most certainly does not go postal on a bat rack or flip off a photographer, for all the world to see.

Can you imagine Clayton Kershaw giving anyone the finger, or contemplating anything even remotely similar? There’s your face of the franchise, people. Clayton Kershaw. Add the current model of Matt Kemp to the mix and the Dodgers have their men to build around. Of course, if there’s a Davey Lopes-like mentor for Ethier available, maybe the club can make that hire a priority.

Or they can strike while the iron is hot, even if Ethier isn’t, and just go ahead and trade the guy. To be clear, I’m not advocating, necessarily. Just throwing it out there for discussion. So don’t send me angry letters. Actually, come to think of it, do. Do send me angry letters. I’ll respond to each and every one.

Independent of the Dodgers making something of the 2011 season, and whether or not the team gets a new owner, flush with cash and a thimble full of genuine baseball acumen, you don’t get to keep all your players. You can’t sign every one you’d like to a $100 million contract. You have to pick and choose. Kemp is going to get his money soon enough, possibly during the calendar year, and Kershaw will get his eventually.

Looking ahead to 2012, the Dodgers are set at all of two positions, Ethier’s right field and Kemp’s center. Three, if you count Juan Uribe at second base, but more likely third. Where Rafael Furcal lands is anyone’s guess, and few in-the-know expect James Loney anywhere near Glendale, Arizona come next February. Prince Fielder might be in blue by that time anyway.

In addition to first base and shortstop, the Dodgers are going to need a catcher, a left fielder (and let’s be honest, they need those two positions covered now), they’ll be in the market for a second baseman, and a bench without splinters. Sure, Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus are possibilities, but there is a ton of work to be done, and a head-start on next season might just help with this one.

More than a comfortable number of questions about Ethier remain. Is he a monster April player and a question mark afterwards? Is there doubt about the personality? We’re not talking Milton Bradley-like issues, certainly, but is there something going on upstairs with which to be concerned?

Will he ever hit even as much as .260 against left-handers with any degree of consistency, or does every manager in the sport have an easy late-game decision already made for him? Power hitter or punch-and-Judy?

Here’s a given: you get more in trade a year and a half before free agency, which is where Ethier stands now, than you will six months later.

If the Dodgers can get a haul, perhaps including two or three prospects, a solid-if-not-spectacular regular, a future-but-signable 2012 free agent team player-type, or some combination of the above, wouldn’t a deal be worth considering? Seriously considering?






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