Dodgers manager Don Mattingly benched veteran right fielder Andre Ethier for this afternoon's game in Milwaukee and did so publicly, suggesting Ethier lacks toughness or grit or fight or hustle or some combination of those:
"It's not just all, 'Let’s go put an All-Star team out there and play games and the team with the All-Star team wins.' It's trying to find that balance of a team that's got a little grit and a little fight. They'll fight you, and has enough talent to get there also, with that. All grit and no talent is not going to get you there and all talent and no grit is not going to get you there. There's got to be a mixture of both."
It's the third time Ethier hasn't started in six games, and Wednesday's benching was particularly noteworthy because it came against a right-hander. Ethier is one of those players who plays with a sort of effortless ability, but obviously Mattingly sees something going on. With the benching, he's sort of putting what I'll call the J.D. Drew label on him: It doesn't look like Ethier is trying. Difference is, Drew was a much better player than Ethier.
Here, each player's WAR (wins above replacement) from ages 25 to 30 (Ethier is in his age-31 season):
Ethier: 1.1, 2.2, 2.9, 1.9, 2.4, 3.8
Drew: 5.5, 2.8, 2.5, 8.3, 3.2, 4.0
I was going to write how this means Ethier could be on the trading block, since spring training sensation Yasiel Puig is playing well in Double-A (.314 AVG/.385 OBP/.579 SLG, six home runs, 10 steals) and could be in line for a promotion, but Dave Cameron at FanGraphs has an excellent piece on the topic. From Dave's piece:
As challenging as moving Ethier's contract might seem -- he's hit just .270/.346/.415 over the last calendar year, spanning 619 plate appearances, so this is no longer just a slump -- the Dodgers have the financial capability to eat a significant chunk of his contract in order to move him and create a spot in the lineup for Puig. And while Ethier is certainly not worth his full salary, it's not so far removed from the realm of reason that he couldn't possibly be traded.
Even over the past 365 days, when Ethier has demonstrated marginal power, he's still put up a 111 wRC+, and both ZiPS and Steamer forecast him to hit at about that level the rest of the season. The disappointing Andre Ethier is still roughly an average player, maybe even a tick above for this year, though he's on the wrong side of 30 and will probably be below average before too long.
As those graphs suggest, trading him has three obstacles:
1. He does make a lot of money (signed a five-year, $85 million extension last year).
2. He can't hit lefties (never has) and maybe not righties as well as in the past.
3. He's getting older.
Is there another team out there willing to take a chance on Ethier? That believes he's still a 3-win player and not a platoon guy on the decline? The Dodgers would likely have to eat some of his remaining contract. Dave suggests the Royals (for Jeff Francoeur), the Mariners (for Franklin Gutierrez) and the Rangers as possible partners. Those make sense and I'd also toss in the Orioles, for whom Ethier could DH.