As has been widely reported, the Rangers are going to be looking for a bat this offseason. Probably two. Maybe three. Who knows, maybe even more. But getting a bat, or bats, is definitely going to be a priority for Jon Daniels and company over the offseason.
The Dodgers are going to make Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp or both available this offseason.
The immediate reaction is to think, well, the Rangers would be a good fit. And the Dodgers could use a second baseman, so let's send Ian Kinsler to the Dodgers for one of those guys, fix the middle infield logjam, and get a big bat. Problem solved, right?
Its not that simple, though. I think Ethier is the guy more likely to be dealt -- the Dodgers have Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig in the corner outfield spots, which means they need a center fielder, which means that Kemp (a CF, or at least a guy who can play CF) is more likely to stick around than Ethier (who is a RF, though he was pressed into duty in CF some this season).
So let's look at Ethier first. Ethier turns 32 in April. He signed a 5 year, $85M contract extension last June that looked questionable as soon as it was inked. He just finished the first year of the deal. He's owed $15.5M in 2014, $18M in 2015, $16M in 2016, $18M in 2017, and there's a $17.5M club option in 2018 that has a $2.5M buyout, and that becomes guaranteed if Ethier has either 550 PAs in 2017 or 1100 PAs in 2017-18, combined.
So...this is either a 4 year, $70M deal, if Ethier isn't good enough/healthy enough in 2017 for his option to vest, or a 5 year, $85M deal. Ian Kinsler's contract is either 4 years, $62M or 5 years for either $67M or $69M (reports vary as to the value of the fifth year option), which has led some to suggest that Kinsler for Ethier would make sense for both teams.
The problem is, however, that Ethier isn't as good as Kinsler, and he's owed more money than Kinsler. The Rangers aren't upside-down on the Kinsler contract...if they wanted to just unload Kinsler this offseason, they would be able to, without having to eat any money. They may not get much in return for Kinsler, but they could get out from under his deal if they wanted to. As a result, you wouldn't send Kinsler to the Dodgers for Ethier unless you would be willing to give Ethier that contract if he were a free agent -- there's no "dead money" you'd be sending to the Dodgers.
So, is Ethier worth 4/70 or 5/85? You'd be getting his age 32-35 or 36 seasons, which means decline years, although Ethier has been remarkably consistent over the past three seasons offensively:
2011 -- .292/.368/.421, 122 wRC+
2012 -- .284/.351/.460, 124 wRC+
2013 -- .272/.360/.423, 120 wRC+
Both UZR and DRS had Ethier as well below average in the outfield from 2008-10, and average to a little above average in the outfield from 2011-13.
The solid offense and average defense has resulted in Ethier having has best three year run in terms of fWAR, putting up fWARs of 2.7, 3.0 and 2.9 the previous three seasons. If you prefer bWAR, Ethier has put up 2.4, 3.8 and 2.7 the previous three seasons.
So Ethier is a 3 win player, at a position of need for the Rangers. Except that, given that Ethier is 32 next year, he's likely not going to be a 3 win player going forward (the rule of thumb is generally to drop a half-win per season going forward after 30). And at $5M per win, he's getting paid more like a 3.5 win player than a 3 win player going forward. Now, we can take inflation into account and say that over the life of the deal, a win should be valued at $5.5M or so rather than $5M, but still...you're paying him in his early- to mid-30s like he's going to continue to produce like he has in his best seasons.
And there's a few other issues with Ethier. He was benched earlier this year, apparently because manager Don Mattingly didn't feel like he was "competing the hardest." He has had some nagging injury issues, and that's rarely something that improves with age. He doesn't hit lefties well -- his career .235/.294/.351 line is eerily similar to David Murphy's career .259/.306/.350 line against LHPs.
So I can't see the Rangers just having a whole lot of interest in Ethier. Yeah, if the Dodgers were to eat a big chunk of his contract, I'm sure the Rangers would be interested. But the Rangers have been fastidious about not giving out long-term deals to free agents -- by my count, the only two free agents from other teams who have gotten more than three years from Texas since Jon Daniels took over are Kevin Millwood and Adrian Beltre (though you can put Yu Darvish in that category too, I guess, although he wasn't really a free agent). If Texas is going to deviate from their usual m.o., I can't see it being to bring in the Rich Man's David Murphy.
So, let's forget about Ethier. What about Matt Kemp? Just 29 years old next season, can play all three outfield positions...do you trade for him?
Its kind of funny, but just a year or two ago, Matt Kemp was being talked about as possibly the best player in baseball. He finished the 2011 season with a .324/.399/.586 line, and led the N.L. in runs, homers, RBIs, total bases and OPS+, while winning a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger and finishing second (to Ryan Braun) in the N.L. MVP race. Kemp put up an 8.1 bWAR and an 8.4 fWAR in 2011, and seemed to have established himself as one of the elite players in MLB.
The year before his big breakout season, in 2010, Kemp put up a .249/.310/.450 line, leading to a 0.1 fWAR and a -1.1 bWAR. In 2012, Kemp was productive, but only played in 106 games, putting up a 2.4 bWAR and a 3.2 fWAR. This year, once again plagued by injuries, Kemp basically had a wasted season, recording just 290 plate appearances in 73 games, and putting up a 0.1 bWAR/-0.4 fWAR.
So, in the past four seasons, Kemp has had an MVP caliber season, a productive but injury plagued season, and two seasons of replacement-level (or lower) performance.
And have I mentioned Kemp is under contract for 6 more seasons, at $21M for 2014 and 2015, and $21.5M for the next four seasons?
Evaluating Kemp is tricky. You're getting his age 29-34 seasons, normally a pretty solid proposition. But after Kemp missed just 11 games from 2008-11 -- including 1 in 2011 and 0 in 2010 -- Kemp has been unable to stay on the field the past two years. He's been terrible two of the last four years.
And there's the positional situation. Yes, the Dodgers have played him in CF, but he's not been good out there with the glove -- he was a whopping -37 DRS/-25.8 UZR in 2010, and over the past two seasons, in roughly a season's worth of innings in center, he's been at -19 DRS/-25.2 UZR. So Kemp is really more of a COF -- and maybe a DH, if you're concerned about his ability to stay healthy in the field.
Honestly, the more I sit here and think about this and write about Kemp, the more I come to believe that there's no way the Dodgers move him this offseason. If they move him, they still have to go and get a center fielder, and if they go and get a center fielder, they then still have to move Ethier.
And there's not a team out there that is going to absorb $128M over 6 years on Kemp right now, not after failing to stay on the field for two straight years, which means that the Dodgers would have to eat serious dollars to move him. And I just can't see the Dodgers doing that, not at this point. It would be one thing if they had the opportunity to go out and sign, say, Andrew McCutchen, making Kemp superfluous and giving them a motivation to get him out of town.
But pay tens of millions so Kemp could go to another team when they have no other center fielder? Or to sign, say, Curtis Granderson?
Nope. It makes no sense.
Which brings us back to Ethier, who the Dodgers pretty clearly are ready to be done with, and who they also know they're going to have to pay someone to take off their hands. I suspect he'll be dumped this offseason to someone...the Yankees, come to think of it, might be a fit there.
But I don't see Ethier being dumped on the Rangers.