Ahh, the offseason. It’s a place where trade rumors swirl around like winds on a blustery day at the beach. It’s a place where Scott Boras circles around said beach like a shark waiting to pounce on whatever chum is foolish enough to hand out a Carl Crawford-sized deal before immediately regretting it. It’s where thrifty front office types scrounge around for that perfectly valuable scrap that’s been long lost in the sand. It’s where Josh Hamilton is tied to the Orioles one minute and the Brewers the next. Rumors get ridiculous, players get paid, general managers lose their minds. One of those interesting rumors floating around the November waters this year has the Dodgers in hot pursuit of outfielder Torii Hunter. This particular tasty morsel of information is also a two-parter. The Dodgers are also believed to be floating right fielder Andre Ethier out on the market, which would be a fascinating move if Los Angeles can pull it off.
The logistics of this de facto swap make quite a bit of sense theoretically. The Dodgers only recently locked Ethier up to an $82 million extension that runs through 2017 (with a $17.5 million option for 2018), whereas Torii Hunter would likely only require a 2 year deal at somewhere around $30 million to lock up. For a franchise that suddenly has too many outfielders on pricey, long-term deals this kind of thinking is logical. Los Angeles just unloaded their coffers to lock up Matt Kemp for 8 years at $20 million per and with the addition of Carl Crawford (signed through 2017) via mid-season trade that tacks on another $100 million plus.
Even teams as well financed as the Dodgers probably shouldn’t drop nearly $60 million a season solely on their outfield. And that’s not even counting the 7 year/$42 million the franchise just handed out for Cuban import Yasiel Puig, a talented outfielder in the minors who will eventually need a spot to play. For every team like the Yankees or Tigers who spend a fortune and spend it well, there are 2 or 3 bad eggs (the mid-2000 Mets stand out) who find a way to bungle up the situation, and trading Ethier could help the Dodgers avoid that fate.
But in strictly a baseball sense, would it be worth it to swap the 37-year-old Hunter for the 30-year-old Ethier, all in the name of saving a little cash? Last season the Dodgers’ incumbent right fielder hit .284/.351/.460 (123 OPS+) with 20 homers and 89 RBI in 618 plate appearances. He has played average to slightly-above-average defense in right field and has played at least 135 games with an OPS+ above 120 in each since since 2008, displaying remarkable durability as well.
Hunter has done an excellent job impersonating Ethier from his perch in Anaheim. He actually outplayed his younger counterpart in 2012, hitting .313/.365/.451 (132 OPS+) with 16 homers and 92 RBI. His defense is slightly preferable to that of the current Dodger right fielders, and he’s been just as consistent in both health and production. The only real difference between the two is that Hunter has been in the league for a full 14 seasons while Ethier has managed to get 7 under his belt thus far. Basically, the two players are about as close to a wash as you can get across the board.
The only risk to be factored in is whether or not Hunter can continue to defy Father Time in order to put up All-Star caliber numbers. If Los Angeles believes that he can, then they would be wise to hedge their bets on Ethier and trade him for pitching, prospects, or both. Los Angeles’ farm system is a bit depleted following their Trade Deadline spending spree, and the talented right fielder would be sure to bring in a decent haul. Tampa Bay would seemingly be a perfect fit if the Dodgers were willing to cover some of his contract due to their depth in the rotation. The Yankees and Phillies are always lurking and could each use an outfielder as well. Baltimore or Pittsburgh could also be surprise contenders if a deal were to get pulled. Both franchises are coming off of fairly successful seasons, could use a big offseason splash, and they each have the money in their coffers to make it work. This move would be a risky one, but since when has that stopped Los Angeles?
The Dodgers have made some gutsy moves in the past 6 months in an attempt to quickly build a winner back in Southern California and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see them pull the trigger again. Hunter has been as good and as durable as the come over the course of his career, playing defense at an all-time great level while providing solid offense pop. Ethier would be a big piece to give up, one of the core members of the franchise, but some financial relief and potentially another pitcher could really benefit this team in 2013 and beyond.