Andre Ethier's words a cry for action
OF wants to make sure Dodgers know where he stands regarding his view on future
LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier wasn't wondering whether the Dodgers want him to be a part of their long-term future with his bold comments Monday and Tuesday about this potentially being his last season with the club.
He wasn't worrying about it, either. He knows his value on the open market, which unfortunately for him doesn't open until after the 2012 season. He will get paid handsomely, whether it's in Los Angeles or elsewhere.
This wasn't a cry for attention.
It was a cry for action.
An extremely ill-timed cry -- just two days before Opening Day -- but after two years of sitting on his frustration, Ethier finally burst.
While Ethier's comments might have seemed rash, this has been simmering. He probably has played well enough to earn an extension and the long-term security that comes with it.
Two years ago, manager Joe Torre told Ethier and outfielder Matt Kemp that they had to be leaders. In 2009, both answered the challenge in leading the Dodgers to their second straight National League Championship Series, despite the 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez.
Though they were under no obligation to do so, it wouldn't have been out of the question for the Dodgers to begin negotiations on long-term extensions with both Kemp and Ethier, as even the cash-poor Arizona Diamondbacks did with Justin Upton last March.
Instead, the organization gave each of them two-year deals that made for a nice raise over their previous year's salary, but that raise probably wasn't much more than they would've made through the arbitration process.
Only two conclusions could be drawn:
(1) The Dodgers aren't going to be giving anyone long-term, high-salaried extensions anytime soon. And no, not the kind of smart, three-year, $35 million extension general manager Ned Colletti signed right-hander Chad Billingsley to on Tuesday. We're talking Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford-type money for Kemp, and perhaps Jason Bay-type money for Ethier.
(2) The Dodgers weren't sold on either player just yet.
Last year, each demonstrated why the team still has reservations, as Kemp and Ethier regressed from their 2009 performances both in terms of production and leadership.
While you'd hope both players would respond by keeping their mouths shut and reiterating their value on the field this year, it's understandable how Ethier found himself in the mental place where he could make public comments such as this:
"I have been kind of lucky to be in one spot in baseball for as long as I have been, for six years now," he told reporters Tuesday night before the Dodgers' game against the Angels in Anaheim. "That is a long time to be in one city playing for one team. There is no inclination now other than to go out and play this year and see what we've got.
"If I don't play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here. If you do play well, sometimes they don't offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high."
I don't think there's much translation needed.
Correctly or incorrectly, Ethier seems to believe that nothing he does on the field this season is going to persuade the Dodgers to sign him to a long-term extension.
The better he does, the more money he'll command either next winter in his final year of arbitration or on the open market after the 2012 season. It's clear from his comments that Ethier doesn't think the Dodgers want to or will be able to pay him the salary he knows he can get on the open market in two years.
That thought cuts straight to the bone of every Dodger fan's greatest fear and skepticism about Frank McCourt's ownership, both before and especially during his messy, ongoing divorce proceedings.
It's the same fear Clippers fans have about their owner, Donald Sterling, and his willingness to pay top dollar to retain homegrown talent like Blake Griffin.
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And short of signing Ethier or Kemp to a monster extension this year or next winter, there's very little McCourt and the Dodgers can do to quell those fears.
Only action will suffice.
Which is exactly why Ethier went public with his comments.
Could he have chosen a better time to do so? Yes, and he probably should have if he was trying to prove his leadership to the men holding the checkbooks he's trying to impress.
The beginning of spring training -- as Ramirez so notoriously chose as occasion to announce his eventual goodbye from the Dodgers -- would've been better than two days before the start of a new season.
But it's clear from his comments both Monday night to the Associated Press, and then repeated to a large group Tuesday, that Ethier wasn't interested in having anything blow over.
He has kept quiet for two years now.
Even more disconcerting, so have others.
But he wants to make sure everyone knows that the Dodgers' window to win with him is closing.
There is an urgency to this now. It will not wait two more seasons.
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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