It's only one day into the new Dodgers phenomenon that should heretofore be known as Puigmania. But you know it will come up. You just know Andre Ethier's name is going to start to work its way into trade speculation.
Already, Ethier has to hold the record for hearing his name most in trade rumors among players within months of signing a contract for anywhere close to $100 million (his is $85 million). All winter, Ethier was hearing things about how he was going to be dealt to make room for Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher or some other free-agent outfielder.
He was hearing it even though there never was any real evidence of substantive talks between the Dodgers and anyone else regarding Ethier. There was word of a call with the Mariners that never got past a couple-minutes chat.
But now that multitalented, 22-year-old Yasiel Puig has arrived -- and he comes following a spring in which he hit .517, two months at Double-A Chattanooga where he starred and had an OPS of .982, plus enough fanfare to get started on a Hollywood script -- you just know the Ethier trade talk will start anew.
It doesn't help that Ethier is batting .237 with just four home runs and 15 RBI (he's been about as bad in the clutch as many of his other high-priced teammates). Nor does it help that all-around good guy manager Don Mattingly singled out Ethier for a benching when the team was at its worst in its surprising two-month slump, though word is that the notoriously moody Ethier reacted as positively as possible to the news that his bosses made him -- at least for a day -- the face of the team-wide malaise.
But even with more reason to trade Ethier now, there are a few very good reasons why it still falls into the category of not very likely. For one thing, at least until Matt Kemp comes back, Ethier seems to be Mattingly's preferred pick for center field. (Puig and Scott Van Slyke have played center but not very often, and Skip Schumaker fits into the "useful backup" bin).
And even after Kemp and Carl Crawford come back, the Dodgers may be understandably skittish about trading healthy bodies. Ethier has been one of the few Dodgers who has remained healthy. They lead the league with an incredible 17 D.L. stays among 14 players.
If Puig continues to hit and amaze (and yes, it's been only one game) and it becomes clear he has to stay up, an outfield rotation where Mattingly can grab some rest for a perhaps still-not-100-percent Kemp, plus Crawford and Ethier, too, wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Plus, there is that little matter about Ethier's $85 million, five-year contract, which has quickly moved into the albatross category since being agreed to almost exactly one year ago. It didn't seem like such a terrible idea at the time, but management sources not with the Dodgers suggest this was a case where a new ownership group rushed to retain a star. "They never should have done it," said one management type not with the Dodgers.
Ethier had an .848 OPS before the break last year, and a .726 OPS after it. This year, it's been a continuation of less-then-stellar production, with a .686 OPS so far.
So even if they wanted to trade Ethier -- and Mattingly's rough critique followed by front-office endorsement of Mattingly's critique suggests that might make sense -- it wouldn't be very easy.
Is the contract even movable?
"Significant dollars would have to come back,'' one rival general manager said.
"It would have to be a bad contract for a bad contract,'' another GM said.
Just how much? And how bad?
"No one's untradeable if the team eats enough of the money,'' a third rival GM said. "I bet they'd have to eat half.''
Ah, therein lies the real rub.
The Dodgers may have money to burn, but it would be pretty hard for any ownership to admit it erred by approximately $40 million only a year after signing a deal.
On the bright side, the $42 million, seven-year deal signed by Puig -- who looks like a Yoenis Cespedes/Bo Jackson combo -- may turn out to be a bargain that will more than make up for the Ethier albatross.