Bothered by Dodgers' mess, Ethier may be thinking of Red Sox
Ethier, having a solid year, is eligible to become a free agent after next season
Sources close to the situation say his next stop could be the Boston Red Sox
He may be more troubled by the Dodgers' woes than he has publicly admitted
Dodgers players generally deny that the team's ongoing financial troubles (a.k.a. the McCourt mess) are affecting them. But at least star right fielder Andre Ethier is said by several sources around the team to be unhappy with what's going on with the last-place team.
Ethier alluded to his concern with some cryptic comments in spring training that created a brief stir, and while there's no evidence that his worry is affecting his play -- he has a .316 batting average with seven home runs and 42 RBIs, and his 30-game hitting streak in April and May was the second-longest in franchise history -- many people connected to the Dodgers say that Ethier is more dismayed by the financial and on-field troubles than he has publicly admitted. While he hasn't spoken publicly about his concerns since the season started, people close to the situation say they are aware that Ethier has imagined his next stop could be the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees also are believed to like Ethier very much, but people close to Ethier say they believe he has Boston in his mind.
"He's got his best buddy Dustin Pedroia telling him how great Boston is,'' one of those people said. "In Andre's mind, [the Dodgers situation] is embarrassing. And Boston has a different [vibe] right now.''
Ethier's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, declined comment. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said that absent direct quotes from Ethier he also would decline comment.
Ethier is in the last year of a two-year, $15.25 million contract but can't become a free agent until after the 2012 season. While he hasn't said anything overly negative publicly, he did speculate late in spring training about leaving the Dodgers, saying, "It might be my last [year] here with the Dodgers. You never know. A lot of signs are pointing that way, so we'll have to see.''
The Dodgers' money woes were clearly on his mind then, when he also said, "If I don't play well, we've seen them non-tender guys here, and if you play well, I've seen them offer arbitration because they're afraid of guys setting their salaries too high.'' He seemed to worry about the team's future as a viable contender, as well, when he responded to a question about whether he wants to stay in Los Angeles by saying, "Yeah, as long as the organization is moving in the right direction.''
With the storied Dodgers at 38-51 and in last place in the NL West, unfamiliar territory for the team that has only finished last once in 53 seasons in Los Angeles, many people close to either the Dodgers or Ethier suggest that his feelings about the future of the organization aren't growing any rosier.
"Andre's a really great guy, but he can be a little moody,'' one other person close to Ethier said. "Of all the guys this is going to affect, it's Andre. All the b.s. around the club will affect him more than other players. He's a prideful guy. He's lost respect for the organization.
"He loves L.A.,'' the person continued. "But he wants to play for a winner. And he wants to be associated with a team with positive things surrounding it. Matt Kemp's a guy who won't let it bother him, who'll just say I'll play my game. Andre isn't like that.''
People around the Dodgers say that morale generally is at an alltime low among the team's employees, so it isn't surprising if those feelings have seeped into the clubhouse. "It's been a tough deal,'' one Dodgers person said, referring to Frank McCourt's tenuous position as owner. "People wish everything would just get over with, one way or the other.''
McCourt is trying to drag out what would appear to be his certain ouster, recently filing for bankruptcy in hopes of reorganizing his finances and holding on to the team. But in the meantime, the club's payroll is at mid-market levels (about $83 million, not counting Manny Ramirez's deferred payments), its play is nearing a Los Angeles low and uncertainty surrounds the situations of their two best position players, Kemp and Ethier. Colletti is said by associates to long have been in favor of trying to lock up the team's two everyday mega-stars, and the team made some effort this spring to keep Ethier with a multiyear offer. But apparently, it didn't allay his fears about the franchise's direction.
Kemp, who's also eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, was actually the one who came under criticism from his bosses for on-field gaffes last year, when some club insiders suspected that he was distracted by his relationship with pop star Rihanna, but Kemp, described by Dodgers people as a "happy-go-lucky type,'' has responded with a monster year that suggests he may be becoming one of the game's elite. Ethier's performance doesn't appear to have been affected by his mood, but he is said to have an uneasy relationship with some Dodgers decisionmakers the past couple years. While Colletti wants to keep both players, it would appear their chances with Kemp might be better, even if his superb season raised the financial bar -- though the immediate concern has been to merely make payroll.
While the Dodgers talked to Ethier's people in the spring to try to persuade them about a long-term future with the Dodgers, Pedroia's flattering portrayal of the Red Sox and the city of Boston's reaction to the team has had a real impact on Ethier, according to people who know him. Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew is almost surely in his last season in Boston, which could create a spot for Pedroia's friend. Ethier and Pedroia were teammates at Arizona State and are now regular winter workout partners in the Phoenix area.
One competing GM said about Ethier, "I could see him ending up in Boston. He'd be perfect in that park.''
But for now Ethier puts the best face possible on his less-than-happy situation in Los Angeles. Thursday night was Andre Ethier Bobblehead Night at Dodgers Stadium. If accuracy was a goal, the Ethier doll wasn't wearing a smile.