What Is Andre Ethier Worth?

Andre Ethier will be the first major question for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new ownership. The 30-year-old outfielder will become a free-agent at the end of the season, and he has recently indicated that he would be willing to sign an extension with the club.

Since 2006, Ethier has emerged as a mainstay in the Dodgers’ outfield, and he has become one of their most integral players — along with Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. At the same time, Ethier will be a year older next season, and the team may not be willing to commit a substantial amount of money to a player entering his decline phase. But some other team will. And if Ethier is allowed to hit free-agency, there’s a good chance he’ll get the contract he desires.

Ethier has reportedly been looking for a deal that might exceed $100 million. But when we look at some comparable players, it’s tough to find another player that commanded that type of money on the free-agent market.

Nick MarkakisAlex Rios and Nick Swisher each signed extensions before hitting free-agency — none of which were anywhere close to $100 million. Ichiro was given a five-year, $90 million contract extension, but he was entering his age-34 season and he was one of baseball’s best players before he signed the deal.

There’s one player on the list who is somewhat similar to Ethier, and another player who isn’t on the list because he became a full-time first baseman by the time he hit free-agency. Both Magglio Ordonez and Adam Dunn each reached free-agency at the same age as Ethier. All of the players were exceptional hitters, but they struggled defensively in the outfield. As a result, Dunn became a full-time first baseman with the Washington Nationals — and he only received a four-year, $56 million deal with the Chicago White Sox. That’s a major difference from what Ethier is asking for. While there hasn’t been talk about moving Ethier to first base, his defense could force the issue in a few seasons.

Ordonez, on the other hand, makes for a pretty interesting comparison. Though he was coming off a devastating knee injury, the right-fielder signed a five-year, $85 million contract with Detroit . Ethier could use that deal as a benchmark — then point to a better market today — and demand somewhere near the $100 million he wants.

Another interesting player ranks a little lower on the list: During the same time period, Jayson Werth accumulated just 12.4 WAR. After two more seasons of strong production, Werth snagged a seven-year, $126 million contract from the Washington Nationals. Some folks have speculated that Ethier will look for a similar contract, but that notion seems crazy.

Werth’s deal was seen as a huge overpay by the Nationals at the time — and it’s going to be incredibly hard for Ethier to convince a team to give him that type of money. Werth was a year older when he signed his deal, but he was coming off three consecutive seasons with at least 5 WAR and was regarded as a strong defender.

That’s what’s going to make Ethier’s next contract so interesting. No one can argue with his offensive production with the Dodgers: He has hit .291/.364/.479 since 2006. But his defense limits his ceiling. Because of that, Ethier has consistently been pretty good, but he has never great. And while he has posted a yearly WAR total of about 3 each season, he has never be able to top 3.5 during a single season. His 5.3 UZR actually rated alright last season, but his career -27.9 UZR tells us much more about his defense. Since his defense is unlikely to improve with age, it should be a major concern for any team looking to sign Ethier this off-season.

While first base might hide some concerns, we’ve seen how much it can affect players on the free-agent market. At this point, Ethier needs to separate himself from Dunn as much as possible if he wants to make $100 million — but there’s no way a team will give him the deal that Werth signed.

If Ethier hopes to make the money he wants, he’ll be best off matching Ordonez’s previous production and then using Werth’s contract to illustrate how much the market has changed. While the dollar figures are debatable, one thing is certain: Ethier will cash in on the open market.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

19 Responses to “What Is Andre Ethier Worth?”

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  1. bcp33bosox says:

    I know the Sox have been interested in the past (supposedly he is close with Pedroia as well), but it might be a bit early to speculate too much on if they would be in on him. That being said, I certainly agree he probably wouldn’t get a Werth-like deal. He is a fun player to watch though, and my early guess would be LA tries to extend him, if that happened, what might that deal look like?

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    • TFINY says:

      In this case, context makes it clear, but don’t forget that there are two sox teams. Had you not parenthetically inserted Pedroias name, there was no other clue which sox you were referring to.

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  2. Matt says:

    Ethier is overrated. One year of walk-off prowess and people seem willing to overlook that he’s a horrible defender, can’t hit lefties and he is a rally killer/GIDP machine. I hope we don’t resign him. Letting Ethier and Loney walk and canning Colletti is the best start our new ownership could ever hope to make. Offer Ethier arb though.

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    • TFINY says:

      To get a draft pick, I believe all you have to do is offer a contract with an AAV of more than 12.5, which is a no brainer.

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  3. DD says:

    How about Jason Bay as a comp? He also was a FA after his age 30 season, had a similar hitting profile (30 HR, a few steals, below avg defense). Bay was more of an up and down player performance wise, but he generated 21.9 WAR in his 5 seasons before FA, compared to 12.5 for Ethier (thru 2012 to-date). He only got a 4/66 contract, and was generally thought of as the top power hitter on the market.

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  4. spike says:

    I would like to point out that the WAR total for Jayson Werth on that table is not really accurate – it seems to only count the games he has played at RF. I mean, the writer should have been clued in that something was off when he wrote that Werth had “just 12.4 WAR” and a paragraph later says he hit free agency coming off of 3 straight seasons of 5 WAR or better.

    Werth may not be better than Ethier based on last season and the beginning of this one, but for those three years leading up to his deal with the Nats Werth was way better than Ethier ever has been, especially when you include the defense.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      I should have clarified this better in the article. The Ethier leader board chart includes all right fielder between ages 24-29. Over that period, Werth only produced 12.4 WAR. Ethier was actually better during his age-24-29 seasons. But Werth had two really strong years at 30 and 31, which is why he received such a lucrative deal. Unless Ethier can produce two straight 5 WAR seasons, there’s no way he gets Werth money.

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  5. Xeifrank says:

    For Ethier to be worth $100M (over 6 or 7 years or w/e the length would need to be) you have to believe heavily in a few things.

    1. Ethier’s true talent level is at least 4.0 WAR
    2. Current $/WAR of around $5M
    3. Salary inflation going forward of 10%
    4. A generous aging curve

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  6. DropDaDeuce says:

    Based on the very simplified model I developed for my senior Econ. project, I would value Ethier’s performance at approximately $14M annually. Based on that I’d probably max out an offer I make to him at $90M over 6 years, And I would be overpaying. I’d be more comfortable at $60M over 4.

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  7. DRS2Impress says:

    Crawford for Ethier mid July, boom goes the dynamite.

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  8. Mr Punch says:

    It’s all timing of course. Going into free agency, none of us thought Werth or Crawford would get the contracts they did (and a year later, it was clear that we were right the first time). Vlad Guerrero got much less than he might have in a different year – he’s actually a Hall of Famer, isn’t he? Ethier is a pretty good player, and kind of a star, so lightning could strike.

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  9. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Andre Ethier, Gold Glove right fielder, that still sounds so odd.

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  10. lester bangs says:

    While I don’t want to suggest Ethier is the defensive replication of Roberto Clemente, he did place a respectable fifth in the Fielding Bible voting for all MLB right fielders, sparked largely by Bill James voting him first (BJH, page 23). Doug Glanville ranked him second, Joe Posnanski ranked him third.

    Maybe that matters to people, maybe not. I do think Ethier is a better fielder than the consensus here seems to think (and I’m not an Ethier fan or a Dodgers fan).

    I wouldn’t sign him to a long-term deal, but that goes for so many good-not-great players that enter free agency on the wrong side of 30.

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  11. Shaun Catron says:

    6 Yr/106mil

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  12. AA says:

    UZR has historically underrated Ethier (and Kemp), especially when it comes to arm rankings.

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