LOS ANGELES, CA - Andre Ethier of the Los Angeles Dodgers breaks his bat as he grounds out to end the fifth inning with runners on second and third against the St. Louis Cardinals. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
What will Andre Ethier be worth in 2016? The Dodgers don't know, but that isn't the point.
The Dodgers are close to a five-year, $85 million extension with Andre Ethier, and Chad Moriyama has some good analysis on the deal. It includes expected WAR by age, as well as aging curves for hitters over 30.
That's the Internet for you. Instant, quality analysis on news that was just a few hours old. But we're in a baseball-nerd bubble. And it's easy to forget that the majority of ticket-buying folk exist outside of that bubble. They wouldn't know aging curves if an aging curve was in their bedroom, going through their wallet. They'd be so unfamiliar with WAR that they'd think they were the first to come up with with the "WAR, what is it good for?" line.
And most of the Ethier analysis will hit on those two points. Might not make a ton of baseball sense, especially toward the end of the deal. But the deal has a public-relations component that could transcend the aging/injury concerns. Andre Ethier is a brand in Los Angeles -- a ridiculously consistent fixture for the Dodgers over the last seven years. He's appreciated by the Dodgers fans who fiddle with WAR graphs, and he's appreciated by the drunk guy from Palmdale who goes to two games a year and calls him "Andrew." The new ownership working out a deal with Ethier feels almost like them making good on a covenant with the fans.
This is a good spot to note that the layman and outsider doesn't have a great grasp on what the PR value of a deal like this is, myself included. Except I'm not sure teams have a great grasp on what the PR value of a deal like this is. I'm sure they have some idea, and it's certainly more informed than what we could come up with, but it's not an exact science.
There isn't a public-relations wRC that tells you the damage the Dodgers would take if Ethier went to the Giants and had five All-Star seasons. There isn't a metric that can evaluate, say, George Foster's legacy if he were allowed to decline in Cincinnati instead of New York, and what that would mean for the Reds 20, 30, or 40 years down the line, and how that applies to Ethier's situation at all.
I'm not an advertising wonk, so forgive me if I'm oversimplifying things here, but companies spend millions to establish a brand. They aren't running commercials to make you stop what you're doing and run out to buy a product. They're putting an idea in your head. "Hey there, stoned college student. You see that guy who dared his friend to swallow Jack's keys? Totally like you and your friends. So the next time you're looking for tacos and/or diarrhea at two in the morning, think of us."
And the Dodgers are trying to establish a brand. Something like this:
We're the Dodgers. We can keep our players, even if we have to overpay or assume a lot of risk. Do you know what the Yankees had to pay Jorge Posada to keep him around? We don't either, at least not without looking it up. But we do know that Posada didn't play for another team. We're that kind of franchise now.
Matt Kemp got the huge extension first, and Ethier got a substantial (but more modest) extension after that. The Dodgers' new ownership wants to keep the team intact. The danger is that there won't be money to sign other good players, especially if the worst-case scenarios for Ethier happen, such as a bum knee that saps his production. They'll have an expensive Ethier and a worse team.
Except I think there's another part to that brand the Dodgers are trying to establish, and it goes something like this:
We're the Dodgers. We have "****-you money" now. We can absorb a bad contract or three. Don't worry your pretty little head about it.
The analogue is the Angels with Vernon Wells. While we were laughing at the Angels taking on the Wells contract, they were signing Albert Pujols for insane amounts of money. They felt they could handle all of it. They built a brand as the Southern California team that would spend to win.
Maybe the Dodgers overpaid, and maybe they assumed a lot of risk with the Ethier deal. It's not a bad deal, especially when you think of Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford as possible corner-outfield comps. But the Dodgers were sending a message just as much as they were trying to build a 2014 roster. If Magic Johnson is to be believed, the message will have several parts, and they'll all be expensive. That's the brand of the new Dodgers. It just happened to kick off with some old Dodgers.