Los Angeles Dodgers : Ethier Joining McCourt as the Main Distraction?

Sigh. And to think Dodgers fans thought 2012 would be the end of distractions. After all, owner Frank McCourt is on the way out and the hope is a competitive team, one that showed promise by going 17-9 the final month of 2011, will move in. Well, the Mayflower trucks may still be idling.

Andre Ethier (left) may be upset he received a one year deal while Matt Kemp(right) signed for $160 million over 8 years. (AP)

All-Star outfielder Andre Ethier (.292, 11 HR in 2011)  has entered spring training in Arizona by pouting about, or, depending on your point of view, focusing on, his role with the team. He already has been accused of being somewhat “curt” with replies to the questions asked him in his first interview of 2012. Maybe he didn’t quite pull a Harvey Keitel from “Pulp Fiction,” but a recent exchange with a reporter went like this:

Reporter: “Did you have a good winter?”

Andre: “We’re not here to talk about that.”

Ethier later responded to another question in regards to his stand-off stance. “I’m not your buddy. You’re not my buddy. We’re not going to sit here and have a bar-type conversation.”

Maybe you can’t blame the guy for being a little ornery. The last couple of months, he has had to sit and watch as his fellow 2011 All-Star teammates, outfielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Clayton Kershaw, signed long term deals with the Dodgers for $180 million and $19 million respectively. Ethier appeared to be the odd man out as he wrapped up a two year, $16 million dollar deal in 2011 and settled for a one year deal worth $11 million this season in order to avoid arbitration.

Ethier questioning the team’s long term plans for him is not new. During last year’s spring training, Ethier wondered aloud if the ownership turmoil and his then-current contract running out meant his days as a Dodger were numbered. There were stories that his friend, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, told Andre how much fun it would be to play in Fenway Park together. Then in May, Ethier flipped the bird to a photographer taking pictures of batting practice. Finally, as the season wore on, a rift between Dodgers management and Ethier became a story Dodgers fan didn’t want to hear in light of McCourt’s tales of the idiotic.

A story broke that Ethier was playing with a sore knee. Ethier first told the press the Dodgers were forcing him to play through pain. The Dodgers retorted with statements claiming Ethier was the one choosing to play. The only fact eventually cleared up was that, in September, Ethier underwent season ending knee surgery.

The Dodgers can ill afford to have Ethier searching for an exit. Last year, they traded away their number one outfield prospect, Trayvon Robinson, and believe a prospect obtained from the Cardinals, Alex Castellanos(23 HR, 85 RBI at Double AA last year), is still not ready. The Dodgers recently picked up outfielder Matt Angle (.177 BA in 25 games with the Orioles) with the idea of adding to an outfield devoid of any meaningful depth. Angle won’t make anyone forget Duke Snider at this point but it does look like GM Ned Colletti is looking for any help he can get in preparation of Ethier’s potential exit.

So far, Colletti appears to have adopted a wait and see approach with Ethier. The prevailing thought is Colletti wants to sign Ethier to a longer deal but is waiting to see how the knee holds up and if the power is still there. Ethier hit his 11 dingers in 135 games last season but had 23 in 139 games in 2010.

Meanwhile, McCourt’s unwillingness to part with the parking lot as part of selling the team has caused a few popular bidders, including Joe Torre and local real estate mogul, Rick Caruso, to drop out. It is not quite clear if McCourt is truly just interested in the future parking revenues or he is using asphalt as a reason to drive up the team’s selling price.

No matter who owns the lot, how long one space reads “Ethier” is not something fans want to ponder right now.

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