In the past two years, the Los Angeles Dodgers have taken on so much payroll that I’ve lost the ability to count that high. I’m sure if they could get special permission to have a 55-man roster, they’d find a way to sign every free agent out there this offseason. At this point, nothing they do would surprise me. There have been rumors that they are also interested in Nick Swisher, who the Indians are currently courting. The only surprising fact about that rumor is where do they plan to put him? With Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford in the outfield, and Adrian Gonzalez at first, they really have no place to stick Swisher at this point. This post on MLB Trade Rumors speculates that the Dodgers could be open to trading Ethier, a player they signed to a five year, $85 million extension just six months ago. (Which still seems kind of impractical and insane for a player of Ethier’s caliber.) If the Indians lose out on Swisher, would Ethier be a good replacement? Why would the Dodgers want Swisher, who is two years older than Ethier, when they just locked up the latter for five more years?
This whole situation could be merely speculation, and the Dodgers may not actually consider trading Ethier. If there is some truth to this rumor though, the whole situation is just baffling to me. It seems as if the Dodgers have no real long term plans other than BUY BUY BUY without too much concern as to what they’re actually stockpiling. The Dodgers had to realize that Swisher was a free agent after this season when they extended Ethier last June. I guess because they had yet to acquire the high-priced group from Boston, it probably seemed like they had enough room for everybody. What would impede the Dodgers at this point isn’t Swisher’s price tag; it’s more a concern of where they could fit him on the roster. One has to ask why Swisher is suddenly preferable to Ethier – it’s likely because he offers a bit more versatility at the plate. Swisher is a switch hitter, and as MLB Trade Rumors pointed out, he has very similar (and good) splits against both left and right-handed pitching. Ethier, who bats left-handed, struggles against left-handed pitching. (He sounds like he fits with the Indians already!) In 2012 Ethier batted .284/.351/.460 with 20 home runs, and was good for 3.5 WAR. Against right-handed pitching last season, Ethier hit .325/.398/.546 with 16 home runs – good for a .945 OPS. In other words, he has fantastic numbers against righties. Against left-handed pitching in 2012, Ethier hit .222/.276/.330 with 4 home runs – good for a .606 OPS. That’s a pretty significant drop, particularly the on base percentage, which takes a .122 point swing in the wrong direction. As a comparison, Swisher hit .272/.364/.473 with 24 home runs and was good for 3.5 WAR (exactly the same value as Ethier). Against lefties in 2012, Swisher hit .270/.380/.389 with 5 home runs (.769 OPS), and against righties he hit .273/.356/.517 with 19 home runs (.873 OPS). While more of Swisher’s power comes from the left side of the plate against right-handed pitching, his average and OBP is very consistent regardless of which direction he is batting.
Swisher has a fair amount of interest around the majors, particularly now that Josh Hamilton has settled on a location. It’s unclear how much he’ll demand (and ultimately receive) in terms of salary and years on a deal. Ethier’s current deal works out to $17 million per season, and I don’t see Swisher getting quite that sum. While $17 million is probably more than the Indians would be willing to spend, there’s some indication that the Dodgers may be willing to eat salary in order to move Ethier (if they in fact attempt to do so). If he comes at a reduced rate, would Ethier be a good option for the Indians? I think he’s definitely better than some of the other options out there, but he’s still a left-handed hitter that struggles against left-handed pitching. The Indians really don’t need more players like that at this point. With Swisher’s ability to switch-hit, and his consistency from both sides of the plate, I’d still much rather just sign him than worry about surrendering prospects and negotiating salary in an Ethier deal. If all else fails, I think Ethier may be better than some of the other options out there (unless the Indians could pry Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, or Kendrys Morales away from the Angels). Oakland, with an excess of outfield options, may be another potential trade partner for the Tribe. Either would still be better than a constant merry-go-round of players cycling through the outfield, and much better than someone relatively washed-up, like Vernon Wells. I just think that for the price, and because of those rough numbers against lefties, there may be better options if Swisher decides to sign elsewhere.