When Ned Colletti was appointed as the 10th general manage in Los Angeles Dodgers history back on November 16, 2005, little did he or anyone else know at the time that his very first move – the trading of hot-headed malcontent outfielder Milton Bradley and utility infielder Antonio Perez to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league outfielder Andre Ethier on December 13, 2005 – would end up being the single biggest move of his eventual nine years as the Dodgers GM. But while no one can nor will argue the significance of the Ethier acquisition, things haven’t always gone smoothly for the former 2003 second round draft pick out of Arizona State University.
It’s not that Ethier wasn’t a good player or that he was a problem within the the Dodgers clubhouse, quite the contrary in fact. In addition to his two All-Star selections (2010-2011), the now 34-year-old Phoenix, Arizona native won a Silver Slugger in 2009 and a Gold Glove in 2011. Additionally, he boasts an impressive career slash-line of .285/.359/.463 for a career OPS of .822 – probably not Hall of Fame-caliber numbers but definitely not too far from them, and certainly justification for the five-year/$85 million contract extension (with a club option for a sixth year) that Ethier received on June 12, 2012.
No, where things begin to get a bit dicey for Ethier – who turns 35 on April 10 and has the (very) rare distinction of having spent his entire 11-year major league career with one team – is that shortly after receiving that lofty contract extension, he has been at the forefront of off-season trade rumors every year since – without exception. Yet, in spite of these come-to-be-expected annual trade rumors – which undoubtedly have messed with Ethier’s head over the years – the former Sun Devil just kept plugging along year after year while consistently putting up above average numbers and eventually growing into his $17 million average annual value (AAV) salary which, by today’s standards, is a pretty good deal for a career .285 / 15-20 home run guy.
And then came spring training 2016.
During a spring training game on March 18, 2016 in what can only be described as a freak accident, Ethier fouled a ball off his right shin and was forced to come out of the game. X-rays would later reveal that the 6′-2″/210-pound outfielder had suffered a fractured right tibia which required surgery to repair.
By every indication it appeared as though the longtime fan-favorite would be lost for the season even before it had started. But through incredible perseverance and a lot of hard work (and physical therapy), Ethier worked his way back and actually appeared in 16 games for the Dodgers in September and was even included on the postseason roster.
“I think it’s the veteran presence. He feels comfortable at the plate right now,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters prior to the 2016 National League Division Series. “He’s someone that’s in the immediate fold that makes sense throughout the course of the game, the beginning of the game to help us. In games that he’s not starting, to have that kind of left-handed bat off the bench is a great thing for us.”
Even though Ethier would end up with only six at-bats during the 2016 postseason, he collected two hits – one of which was a home run. (And some people still wonder why his nickname is ‘Captain Clutch’).
But where the real issue comes into play for Ethier is that during his prolonged absence for nearly all of the 2016 season, the Dodgers acquired right fielder Josh Reddick from the Oakland A’s; promoted rookie sensation Andrew Toles, who had skyrocketed through the Dodgers minor league system to earn an August 21 call-up; and saw oft-controversial outfielder Yasiel Puig make a remarkable comeback after serving a month in the penalty box at Triple-A Oklahoma City for what was often referred to as “maturity issues.” And even though Reddick has since moved on to the Houston Astros, the Dodgers still have an abundance of outfielders – especially right fielders – heading into spring training 2017, all of whom (except Puig and utility outfielder Scott Van Slyke) bat left-handed. As such, the Dodgers everyday right field job will, in all probability, boil down to who has the best spring – especially against left-handed pitching; something that has always plagued Ethier with his career .234 batting average against lefties.
All of this said and with Andre Ethier’s Teflon-like resilience, Dodger fans shouldn’t be too surprised to see old reliable number 16 out in right field on Monday afternoon, April 3, 2017 at Dodger Stadium.