There was talk at the trade deadline five years ago of Andre Ethier being carted to Texas as part of an oversized haul for Mark Teixeira, and there was talk a few months after that of the Rangers eyeing up Ethier as a potential 2007-08 winter acquisition, and there has even been talk among fans this year of the Rangers perhaps averting their gaze from Josh Hamilton and setting their sights on what was supposed to be a considerably cheaper Ethier on the 2012-13 free-agent market.
That notion is now completely out the window, as CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported late last night that the Dodgers were close to wrapping up a five-year, $85 million extension with Ethier, which includes a sixth-year vesting option that could drive the total value to $100 million. And with such a significant disruption in the market, the speculation is flowing freely and without restraint as far as what this could all mean for Josh Hamilton and the Rangers ...
Dodgers' signing of Andre Ethier may well eliminate them from any future pursuit of Josh Hamilton; this hurts his leverage position with TEX— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 12, 2012
... and the rest of baseball at large:
Re: Josh Hamilton: LAD probably off the board; NYY tied up with Cano, Grandy; BOS, PHI out of play; LAA no need for OF. Texas best option.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 12, 2012
As far as the actual construct of the Ethier deal, this contract has a vaguely Michael Young-esque feel about it; the Dodgers have committed $16-17 million a year over the next 5-6 years to a good, but not legitimately great player, who has never posted more than 2.7 bWAR or 3.5 fWAR in any single season season (primarily because of his oft-lousy defensive ratings in right field), but who is also very popular with the Dodgers' fan base and is regarded as one of the team's "core guys." I'm not going to knock the bat, per se, given that Ethier sports a robust career triple-slash line of .291/.363/.482 (.361 wOBA, 123 wRC+), and given that he's enjoying a potential career-best 2012 season, but that's a lot of money for a non-elite corner outfielder on the wrong side of 30 who still can't hit lefties.
In other words, this reeks of paying out the nose for past performance and fan appeasement and ... well, Ethier's not even the face of the franchise with Matt Kemp around, so I don't know what else is motivating this. I'm assuming he's not being paid for his strict cordiality towards the media.
The first thing this makes you wonder about, though, is how the Ethier deal further shapes Hamilton's expected market value -- because, after all, if a good, but not great corner outfielder like Ethier can fetch an average annual value of $17 million over five years and possibly net as much as $100 million over six years, why shouldn't an elite corner outfielder like Hamilton (who doesn't have such glaring defensive/platoon deficiencies in his overall game as Ethier does) expect to pull down at least $140-150 million? Last month, the majority of you expressed that you didn't want to go above and beyond $20-22 million over 5-6 years at the very most; if the Ethier deal serves as any sort of indication on where the Hamilton market is headed, that consensus max contract ain't gonna cut it.
Not that any of that would come as much of a surprise, of course. I think even many of the eternal optimists in the bunch would admit that the Rangers are unlikely to pony up what Hamilton is likely going to be seeking, and that the kind of money Hamilton is seeking would be an extremely unnerving proposition for the Rangers.
The other angle on this, though, is what Buster Olney mentioned above as far as the Dodgers now likely being out on Hamilton. Los Angeles had been heavily mentioned as the most realistic non-Texas destination for Hamilton, but with $245 million now committed to Kemp and Ethier, you probably wouldn't assume an additional $150-plus million splurge on another power-hitting outfielder. If you then throw out all of the teams that Olney seems to throw out, and glance at Jeff Passan's previous handicapping of the Hamilton sweepstakes, your next likeliest teams are the Cubs, Mariners, and Giants -- all of whom have plenty of money, and all of whom have a place for Hamilton in their lineup/payroll.
So, yeah, it's not hard to buy into the idea that Hamilton's leverage took a hit with the Ethier contract ... but since it only takes one team going apes--- to upset the apple cart, and since there are other viable, well-capitalized suitors in the mix, and since the Rangers almost certainly aren't going to allow themselves to get caught up in a bidding war to keep Hamilton, I'm not looking at this as some great bit of fortune that's going to heavily depress his market and make the re-signing process into a cakewalk.
Josh Hamilton probably isn't going to be a Dodger, and we have the Ethier deal to thank in part for that, but I doubt the Ethier deal increased the chances of Hamilton remaining in Texas beyond 2012.