Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Andre Ethier trade would improve farm system, but ulitmately limits flexibility

Well, well, well, apparently Andre Ethier isn't as unavailable as previously expected. The Dodgers, despite reports from some in the national media, have been talking to other teams about the outfielder -- specifically, the Seattle Mariners.

Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider and ESPN tweeted the news on New Year's Eve.
"Hearing Mariners have progressed in trade talks for a hitter. Indications it's Ethier. Multiple players involved."
That sent Dodger and Mariner fans into a tizzy on Twitter. Mike Petriello confirmed Churchill's tweet shortly after. He also added some of his thoughts via Twitter. He also did a post this morning about it that is must-read material.
"Here's the thing about Ethier talks, though: it's not going to be for Seager. If it happens, it'll be for SP prospects & maybe BRyan...

...and then Dodgers would fill OF hole with Bourne. But this isn't really new, has been the case for a while. And not tonight. (Hopefully).

Just because it's hitting Twitter now doesn't necessarily mean it's 'breaking,' is all I mean."
If it was Jason Bourne, I'd like the potential move a little more. Alas, the Bourn the Dodgers have their eye on is Michael Bourn.

Churchill said there could be as many as seven players involved and that the Dodgers would be looking at pitching prospects, an outfielder and another player.

When I wrote about a trade with the Mariners nearly a couple weeks ago, I came up with this proposal:
To Seattle: Ethier, Dee Gordon, cash (to offset some of Ethier's money)
To L.A.: Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin, Franklin Gutierrez, Brandon Maurer
I obviously blew it on this one. Most folks were up in arms about the inclusion of Seager, who is apparently a lot more valuable than I thought.

The Dodgers and Mariners have the potential to make quite a significant deal here. The Mariners are known to have interest in Gordon and one of the Dodger starters on the market -- Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang. The Dodgers would also have to throw in a significant amount of cash to get quality players in return.

I'm not going to do another proposal, but I'm going to throw out some players the Dodgers would be interested in. You'll notice this list doesn't include Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino. It isn't because the Dodgers don't have interest in him, it's because the M's aren't going to include those guys (especially Hernandez and Zunino) in a deal for Ethier.

Dustin Ackley
Carter Capps
Nick Franklin
Charlie Furbush
Franklin Gutierrez
Danny Hultzen
Brandon Maurer
James Paxton
Stefen Romero
Brendan Ryan
Casper Wells

I'm only including Ackley because the deal could be more than just Ethier going to Seattle. I don't think Mariners are going to move him, but he'd be the No. 1 prize of any trade.

If the Dodgers can't get Ackley (and they probably can't), getting guys like Hultzen and Franklin to headline a deal would be amazing.

The Mariners would have a glut of outfielders if they acquired Ethier, so moving Gutierrez or Wells in a deal like this would make sense.

A guy who could be a target is Romero, 24, who had a fantastic season between High-A and Double-A. His on-base skills need work (27 walks in 516 plate appearances in 2012), but he can put the bat on the ball (.352 average).

While Luis Cruz is a fine backup shortstop, he can't be counted on to backup Hanley Ramirez while he's manning third base. Perhaps that's the reason for Ryan's name being bandied about. The guy is a great defender, but he can't hit a lick (.194/.277/.278 in '12).

Silverwidow, a True Blue L.A. commenter, made an excellent point that I haven't seen made anywhere else yet.
"One thing that just dawned on me – the Dodgers hired a shitload of scouts from Seattle this winter. It’s fair to conclude that some or all of them will have knowledge of that system. Makes sense. Now, get Paxton!"
That is accurate and makes a potential deal a little more plausible.

There are a lot of potential moving parts in a possible deal -- which isn't especially close (having said that, it'll happen on Wednesday or Thursday).

Ethier's replacement?

Oh yeah, there's the matter of who would replace Ethier if he were traded. Apparently, the Dodgers see Bourn as that guy.

Bourn, 30, is coming off a nice campaign with the Braves. He hit .274/.348/.391 with a career-high nine home runs, 42 stolen bases and a 10 percent walk rate.

The Dodgers lack a "true" leadoff hitter. We all know Don Mattingly loves having speed atop the lineup. Carl Crawford is going to hit second (as long as he's productive) and having Bourn hit ahead of him would make Donnie Baseball the happiest cat around.

Bourn's value lies more in his defense than anything. He is the definition of an elite defender in center field -- so much so that he'd move Matt Kemp off the position. Kemp is a below-average defender in center, but his arm is great. However, moving Kemp to right field would improve the outfield defense a lot.

He had a career-high 6.4 WAR in 2012 and has been no worse than a 4-WAR player since 2009.

Eno Sarris of FanGraphs wrote a piece about Bourn and his unsigned status.
"Why isn’t there more interest in Michael Bourn? A six-win center fielder is on the market, and our most recent article on the subject is whether or not his agent has waited too long to get him a deal. We don’t know what his asking price is, but the idea that a player coming off a career year and four straight seasons with more than four wins now needs a pillow contract seems to suggest that either there’s a reason to doubt Bourn’s work, or there’s a lack of demand for his services in the market place.

There really aren’t many indications that Bourn’s 2012 was a luck-driven affair. His batting average on balls in play was .349. His career BABIP is .343. His batting average was .274. His career batting average is .272. He put up the best UZR/150 of his career at +22.5. His career UZR/150 is +10.5, and he had a +20.6 season as recently as 2010. He walked (10%, career 8.8%) and struck out (22%, career 20.2%) at about his career rates, too. Doesn’t seem like a fluke."
Bourn will likely command a multi-year deal worth many millions. His agent is Scott Boras, who's no stranger to getting his clients great deals late in the winter. The Dodgers could be on the hook for a 3 to 5-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.

Signing Bourn would also mean losing the No. 19 pick in the MLB Draft. At first, this was a huge turnoff to me. While I still wouldn't be 100 percent on board with it, getting some legitimate prospects back from the Mariners would help to offset the loss of the pick.

The 2013 draft class isn't expected to be strong, making the pick more valuable in my eyes. The Dodgers wouldn't pick until the second round, which would hamper their ability to land a future major leaguer. That's something to consider.

Something that also concerns me about Bourn is his strikeouts. For being a guy who's a speedy, slappy leadoff guy, he strikes out an awful lot.
  • 2008: 21.6 percent
  • 2009: 20.6 percent
  • 2010: 18 percent
  • 2011: 19.4 percent
  • 2012: 22 percent
Those are the strikeout rates of a power hitter, not a speedster. Bourn's career strikeout percentage is 20.2. By comparison, Kemp's is 23.4. That's the biggest negative with his offensive game. His 8.8 percent career walk rate is solid and has been trending up since 2008.

Here's a look at the potential starting lineups with and without Ethier.

With Ethier

Mark Ellis 2B
Carl Crawford LF
Matt Kemp CF
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Hanley Ramirez SS
Andre Ethier RF
A.J. Ellis C
Luis Cruz 3B

With Bourn

Bourn CF
Crawford LF
Kemp RF
Gonzalez 1B
Ramirez SS
Ellis C
Ellis 2B
Cruz 3B

The biggest differences between are the leadoff spots and No. 6 spots. With the Ethier lineup, there's more thump down in the lineup. With the Bourn lineup, there's more potential for havoc at the top.biggest differences between are the leadoff spots and No. 6 spots. With the Ethier lineup, there's more thump down in the lineup. With the Bourn lineup, there's more potential for havoc at the top, plus better overall defense.

I've really never been opposed to the Dodgers trading Ethier. I've written about it a number of times. However, replacing him with Bourn doesn't interest me as much as it does others, I'm sure.

My thought was if the Dodgers move Ethier, they gain flexibility for guys like Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson going forward. While they're unknown commodities, the Dodgers did invest a nice chunk of change in Puig. And Pederson had a breakout 2012 season. Signing Bourn immediately gives up that flexibility.

It's hard to field a competitive Major League team while keeping a strong farm system. Not many teams can do it for extended periods of time. General Manager Ned Colletti is in a tough spot here. The Dodgers are built to win now and for the next few years. They're also well on their way to rebuilding their farm system. Part of being competitive is flexibility. Having so many players locked up long-term limits flexibility via the minor leagues, but it does open up more trade possibilities.

Management is trying to get this team to the World Series. If they think this is the best route, sobeit. I'm genuinely torn on the subject. Trade Ethier? Fine. Replace him with Bourn? That's where I waffle.

I do like the improved outfield defense and having another stolen base threat in the lineup with Bourn. I'm not a fan of losing Ethier's pop out of the No. 6 spot. If the team had a legitimate third baseman, I'd feel a lot better about moving Ethier and replacing him with Bourn.

This is going to be an interesting situation to follow. Something could happen as soon as this week or nothing at all could happen. The fact that there's this much smoke definitely means there's fire. I'm just hoping the Dodgers can get a couple of B/B+ prospects in any deal of this magnitude.

Photo credits
Ethier: McD22, Flickr
Bourn: slgckgc, Flickr


  1. Dustin, there has been talk that Giancarlo Stanton is being dangled. I couldn't see why the Mariners wouldn't just send a boatload of prospects to the Marlins for him instead of thinking about Ethier, if Stanton is out there.

    Perhaps Stanton is not available. Or, could the Dodgers be trying to develop a package via the Mariners to try for Stanton? That of course would not deal with the lead off situation.

    1. The Dodgers aren't getting Stanton. The only way it could ever happen is if Puig and Seager establish themselves as Top 30 prospect in all of baseball and Lee takes a step forward this season.

      And the Dodgers won't get anyone from Seattle in any deal that would put them over-the-top in a race to get Stanton.

      The Rangers and the Mariners probably have the best chance to land Stanton if he ever truly becomes available.

  2. I too am torn. An elite outfield defense and speed at the top of the lineup? Tempting!

    But does elite defense mean as much when your a Dodger? Didn't the Dodgers pitching staff have one of the lowest ERA totals in the majors? With the recent signings I think that they can only get lower(I really like our pitching.)

    The biggest problem last year was offense, so unless the Dodgers get Seager(which they wont) just give Ethier and Crawford a platoon partner and everything should be good.