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One Trade to Rule the A.L. East

Andre Ethier and Alex Wood of the Dodgers.
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The offseason is winding down, which is the time of year when Dan Duquette and the Orioles like to do their bargain shopping. While there are still names out there on the free agent market that could fill holes in the Orioles lineup and rotation, there is one trade that could fill all the holes at once, and it involves one player that I’ve coveted for the Orioles for several years now, and one relatively new name who has ties to a current member of the Orioles organization. Who am I talking about?

Dodgers OF Andre Ethier, of course, and P Alex Wood.

An Ethier/Wood deal would fill the Orioles’ two biggest remaining needs with one trade. It’s perfect timing for the Orioles because the Dodgers need to trade Ethier before April otherwise they likely won’t be able to trade him at all due to his 10-and-5 no-trade rights that would be activated, and Wood no longer has a spot in their rotation and serves merely as depth in a bullpen role.

Let’s take a look at both players first and then talk about how the Orioles could get a deal done.

Andre Ethier

As I said before, you may recall I’ve advocated for acquiring Ethier numerous times, including earlier this offseason, but I thought it was worth talking about what he actually could add to the Orioles both offensively and defensively. Also with the Dodgers filling their rotation needs and the Orioles desperate for pitching, a Ubaldo-for-Ethier swap no longer makes sense, so a new trade package would have to be presented.

The best description I’d have for Ethier is that he is the Dodgers’ version of Nick Markakis, only better. Both had career years in 2008, but Ethier has been more valuable since, amassing 16.9 fWAR in the following seven seasons compared to only 11.2 fWAR for Markakis.

Last season, while Markakis struggled, Ethier had a major rebound from his disappointing 2014 with a 2.9 fWAR season where he only played in 142 games. His major weakness and the reason he played in fewer games is that he can no longer hit left-handed pitching. Ethier was only given 48 plate appearances (PA) against left-handed pitching compared to 397 PAs against right-handed pitchers. According to Fangraphs, in those 48 PAs, Ethier had an abysmal weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 29 and a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .209, so it’s clear he’s strictly a platoon hitter. Against right-handers though, Ethier is one of the best hitters in baseball. In 2015, he had a wRC+ of 150 which was the 12th best in MLB for qualified hitters, and a wOBA of .385 which was the 19th best in all of MLB. Ethier would have ranked second to only Chris Davis on the Orioles in both categories against righties.

With Ethier, who can bat leadoff, the Orioles could field a lineup like this against RHP:

RF Ethier

LF Kim

3B Machado

1B Davis

CF Jones

C Wieters

DH Trumbo

SS Hardy

2B Schoop

When Trumbo is your #7 guy, that’s a pretty deep lineup, and it would easily be the best lineup – on paper – in the AL East.

Ethier also has the versatility that Buck Showalter covets, as he’s played all three outfield positions. Defensively, he’s better in the corners, and he has the most experience in right field where he has appeared in 922 games. Although his defense from 2008-2011 was poor according to his -27 mark for defensive runs saved (DRS) he’s rebounded to be an average defender with +9 DRS in the last 5 seasons including +2 DRS last season. Ethier is actually a better defender in left field for his career (+5 DRS) and he won’t kill you in centerfield (career -7 DRS). That’s something Buck Showalter would likely take advantage of, especially if Adam Jones were to miss time like he did last season.

With all of that talent there is a price, and the Dodgers paid what seemed like a market value extension at the time, signing Ethier to a five-year $85 million contract extension before 2013. However, with Ethier becaming a platoon player as he is now, that contract seems quite exorbitant, even for the uber rich Dodgers, so they are looking to move him and get better value from their outfield while they still can. Ethier still has a remaining salary of $18 million for the 2016 season and $17.5 million for 2017 and then has a team option of $17.5 million for 2018 that vests with a $2.5 million buyout if he reaches 550 PAs in 2017 or 1100 PAs combined in 2016-2017. Now it becomes clear why it’s been so difficult to trade him, but we’ll get into how that can happen later on.

Alex Wood

Wood would be the second and likely the most valuable part of the deal because he’s still young (26 in 2016) and has multiple years of team control left. Besides being a left-handed pitcher who can start and has had success, he’s a former pupil of current pitching coach Dave Wallace, who oversaw Wood’s development when he was the Braves’ minor league pitching coordinator.

Under Wallace and the Braves, Wood quickly rocketed through the minors after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2012. He was pitching for the Braves in 2013, starting in 11 out of 31 games and had a 2.65 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark and 8.92 K/9 as both a starter and reliever with an fWAR of 1.6. In 2014 Wood started 24 out of 35 games and had a 3.25 FIP and 8.91 K/9 and was worth 2.6 fWAR. In 2015 he started off strong with the Braves but after being traded to the Dodgers in July, he struggled somewhat and his final numbers saw his K/9 drop to 6.60 and his FIP rise to 3.69. Wood pitched all 32 games as a starter though so it could have just been some growing pains and he kept his value of 2.6 fWAR, which would have been third best after Ubaldo Jimenez (2.7) and Wei-Yin Chen (2.8) for the Orioles.

Wood throws three pitches with a funky ¾ delivery that has been described as “violent.” He has a 89-90 MPH sinker, changeup and a knuckle curve. Most importantly, he’s a ground ball pitcher with a career 1.6 ground ball to fly ball (G/F) ratio and had a 1.8 G/F ratio last season so he’s perfect for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the AL East.

A reunion with Wallace could only bring good things for Wood I think, and he’s got a chance to be the Orioles’ ace or at least a middle of the rotation pitcher for the Orioles if he can once again consistently be the pitcher he was in Atlanta.

His delivery has caused many to think he’s going to be injured within a few seasons, but all you have to do is look at somebody like Chris Sale to see that a violent delivery doesn’t necessarily lead to injury, though Wood did have Tommy John surgery after high school. The Orioles would be signing multiple injury recovery projects as alternatives if they didn’t give up a draft pick for Yovani Gallardo anyway so it makes sense to gamble on Wood considering the potential reward.

Making the Trade

shorebirds baseball player arm back about to throw baseball

So it’s clear these two are a great fit for the Orioles, but how do they get a deal done? For starters, both players have to be available to deal. In the past the Dodgers have supposedly put Ethier on the block, but really haven’t pressed to get a deal done. Now however, they have a clock ticking because Ethier officially gets his 10-and-5 rights in April for being in MLB for 10 years and on the same team for five of those which allows him to block any trade. It hasn’t been an absolute deal breaker for other players that teams have tried to trade, but with his contract and platoon status, it would be very hard to make something work after that happened with a team Ethier may not approve of.

So the Dodgers have extra motivation to trade him this offseason if they in fact do want to move him, and the Dodgers would like to move him according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

How about Wood? Wood was a member of the Dodgers starting rotation after he was traded from the Braves in 2015, but struggled down the stretch and lost his rotation spot this offseason when the Dodgers brought back Brett Anderson and signed Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. He has too much talent to waste in the bullpen and with the price of starting pitching skyrocketing, the Dodgers have a great chip to deal so one would think if presented the right offer, they would move him.

What is the right offer?

The Orioles would have to be willing to absorb most of Ethier’s contract in order to have a match to begin with. That was a sticking point in their last discussion about Ethier last offseason, however they reportedly put and left $95 million on the table for Yoenis Cespedes after they signed Chris Davis, and knew they still had to get a starting pitcher. With Ethier having only two years left, we are only talking about $37 million at the most if they were to absorb the whole contract, so the money should be there.

The Orioles would still ask for some cash back in the deal so let’s say the Dodgers pick up about $5 million total. That would make Ethier a $15-16 million per year player, which is still a slight bargain given the cost of fWAR now.

The cost of Ethier’s salary would also be offset by what you wouldn’t be paying for a pitcher like Wood, who isn’t arbitration eligible until next season.

Now as I mentioned, even though the Orioles would be absorbing some money, they would still be getting a young starting pitcher with years of control so they are going to have to give up something.

Kevin Gausman is of course off the table but I would definitely consider Hunter Harvey and most certainly include Dylan Bundy if they wanted either of those two. Another piece to the deal would be Jomar Reyes, who is rising on top prospect lists but is likely going to have to move to first base, where Davis will likely be for the next seven years. Reyes is one of those players that you would rather not trade because of his potential, but could easily be replaced by another international signing.

Christian Walker and Trey Mancini are both trade bait due to Davis, but the Dodgers may not want either as they have Cody Bellinger in the minors and would also have Reyes.

The Orioles also have a slew of projectable bottom of the rotation starters or bullpen arms such as T.J. McFarland, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Chris Lee, David Hess and Parker Bridwell

They also have established ML depth in the bullpen with an arm like Brad Brach or perhaps even Mychal Givens due to O’Day now being back.

I’ll throw out a proposed package of Harvey, Reyes and Wilson for instance. That would be a pretty good package I think and you could add to it with some fringe prospects as well.

The point is, in spite of the perception of the Orioles’ weak farm system, there are a lot of pieces the Orioles could deal to make something happen. The key however is going to be the Orioles absorbing most of the contract for Ethier, but as I’ve shown, for four years of Wood alone, the cost would likely be worth it.

The cost in prospects is also necessary, and one could argue since the farm system is weak and the Orioles are clearly in a win-now mode, now is the time to use it to acquire the talent needed to win, and they can strengthen it as they progress from year to year. The risk is of course that Ethier crashes and burns and also Wood does the same while the Orioles’ prospects flourish with the Dodgers. We’ve seen that movie before with Jake Arrieta. However, not acquiring the talent to win ensures that a team in win-now mode, won’t have the talent to even have a shot at the playoffs, much less the World Series.

The Orioles have done well to retain their free agents, especially Davis, but they still have holes to fill and with this one move that has some risk but plenty of reward, they can go from talking about being a World Series contender again to actually being one.

5 Responses

  1. ethier is a platoon player, cannot hit lefties…. and he’s making 36mill over the next two years, not better than markakis

  2. I stopped reading this when is suggested that Andre Either would make their lineup easily the best in the AL East

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