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January 2, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, January 2

by Daniel Rathman

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The Indians rang in the new year by fortifying their rotation with a one-year contract for Brett Myers, but most other teams stood pat over the holiday, and there are now only 39 days remaining before the first pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Here’s a look at the other stories that made the rounds as the calendar flipped over to 2013.

Mariners make progress in bid to acquire a bat
Late Thursday, general manager Jack Zduriencik told FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that he was “wide open” to searching for other improvements for his lineup, and with Michael Bourn representing the only big-ticket bat still available in free agency, it seemed likely that a trade would be his best bet. Well, on Monday, ESPN’s Jason Churchill heard from a source that Zduriencik is inching toward a deal, noting that there were “indications” that Andre Ethier could be the slugger heading to Seattle.

Churchill is the only writer with the scoop at this point, but he has ties to the Mariners, and Ethier is a logical target. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweeted three days earlier that there was “no real evidence” of Ethier being on the block, and it’s unclear whether the progress that Churchill reported implies active negotiations between Zduriencik and Ned Colletti or merely indicates that Ethier has become available. Meanwhile, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi confirmed that Zduriencik’s search is reaching far and wide, though Seattle’s shot-in-the-dark inquiry about the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton seems fruitless.

A bid for the 30-year-old Ethier is more reasonable, because his five-year, $85 million extension diminishes the player return that Colletti can seek. Ethier was worth 2.3 WARP in 2012, after foregoing his final year of arbitration eligibility with a $10.95 million agreement, and his salary will bump up to $13.5 million for 2013. That’s a fair invoice for now, but the backloaded contract—which calls for $18 million checks in 2015 and 2016—carries significant risk. The gamble may not trouble the deep-pocketed Dodgers, who could eventually hand right field over to Yasiel Puig, but it is a hindrance for teams like the Mariners, who are weighing a long-term commitment.

Ethier is an outstanding hitter against right-handed pitching, with a .352 TAv in 2012 and a .338 mark for his career, but lefties are his Kryptonite. His lifetime TAv (.227) is more than 100 points lower versus southpaws, and he mashed only four home runs in 239 plate appearances against them last year.

Year

Walk Rate (BB/PA)

Strikeout Rate (K/PA)

2009

10.5

16.9

2010

10.1

17.4

2011

10.5

18.7

2012

8.1

20.1

Ethier’s rate stats also stir concerns about his future performance at the plate. Often hitting in the middle of manager Don Mattingly’s order, Ethier saw a decline in his walk rate coupled with a surge in his strikeout rate last year, which led to his lowest on-base percentage since 2007. He was a solid offensive contributor in the aggregate (.305 TAv), but if those trends continue, Ethier may not remain an above-average everyday outfielder for much of his five-year extension.

Left-handers’ recipe for locking down Ethier was a combination of up-and-in fastballs and low-and-away sliders. The latter is a common weakness among platoon-challenged hitters; the former could be an indication of declining bat speed, and is a hole that pitchers will continue to exploit until he shows the ability to adjust. Right-handers also enjoyed success by pounding Ethier with upstairs heat, though he compensated by punishing pitches left lower in the zone and over the plate.

Since Ethier is a mediocre defensive outfielder, according to FRAA and other advanced metrics, he’ll need to sustain his ownage against northpaws in order to be a valuable contributor into his mid-30s. The Mariners’ willingness to pony up for Ethier’s services will depend largely on their evaluation of his aging curve, though as I wrote in last Friday’s Roundup, Zduriencik faces pressure to improve his roster for 2013, because it marks his fifth year at the helm.

Meanwhile, if the Dodgers were to trade Ethier to Seattle or another interested team, that deal could create a high-budget landing spot for Michael Bourn. Colletti could then opt to slide Matt Kemp to right field and install Bourn as his center fielder, thereby assembling one of the league’s best defensive outfields. On top of improving the team overall, that series of moves would also jibe well with Zack Greinke’s desire to become more of a fly-ball pitcher. Greinke stated at his introductory press conference that “his natural ability” was one reason why he chose the Dodgers over the Rangers.

Javier Vazquez pondering return to the majors
From the Hall of Fame voting to Miguel Tejada’s minor-league hitch with the Royals, erstwhile stars dominated the baseball headlines over the weekend, and we can now tack one more name onto the list of those hoping for another heyday in the big leagues. According to ESPN Deportes, Javier Vazquez—who made 32 starts for the Marlins in 2011 and will pitch for Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic—would consider resuming his stateside career if he is able to secure a roster spot with a contender.

A five-win pitcher at the peak of his career, the 36-year-old Vazquez logged a 3.54 FIP two seasons ago, after struggling mightily with the Yankees in 2011. Given that disparity, he figures to draw more interest from National League teams, and he might be forced to settle for a minor-league pact. If Vazquez commits to returning but chooses to wait until March to decide on a team, a spring-training injury could open his desired doorway to a contender.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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