Ethier extension a sign of LA's pledge to win
LOS ANGELES -- The partnership of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will remain intact in the heart of the Dodgers' lineup through at least 2017.
This became official on Tuesday when Ethier -- surrounded by his parents, his wife, Maggie, and their two sons -- beamed his way through a Dodger Stadium news conference. In the course of counting his 85 million-plus blessings, Ethier seized the opportunity to encourage peers to give serious thought to joining the dynamic duo in Hollywood.
Were the Rangers' Josh Hamilton and the Phillies' Cole Hamels, the potential Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson of next winter's free-agent crop, listening?
"The best recruiters we can ask for are players who are here and know what it means to be a Dodger," club president and CEO Stan Kasten said. "They can spread that around to other players in the [game]. I think Andre feels that way; you heard him say that.
"It's important for players to know this is a really good place to play. There's a great tradition here, and when you think of the Dodgers, you still think of that."
Kasten's adult life has been spent in pursuit of building successful, enduring sports franchises. With a history of developing viable operations in three sports in Atlanta (the Braves, the NBA Hawks and NHL Thrashers) and laying down a foundation in Washington for the rise of the Nationals, this is a guy who knows how to plant seeds and nurture fertile ground.
Kasten also understands how difficult it is in this era of wild free-agent gambling to keep aces and face cards in your deck. It is a coup when you can keep a Jered Weaver, if you're the Angels, or an Ethier in the fold for the sake of continuity.
"Stability on a team, in an organization, is important," Kasten said. "My own experience in Atlanta, where we had a core that stayed together and had a great run, showed that. It feels better and is better for the fans."
Kasten became the Braves' president in 1986. From 1991 to 2005, the club won 14 straight division titles, five National League titles and a World Series crown in '95.
Atlanta's foundation was its matchless rotation, fronted by Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. The Dodgers have an ace in that class in Clayton Kershaw, and Chad Billingsley has the stuff to be a solid No. 2.
Free agency is only part of the formula. The biggest impact comes in resourceful scouting and player development.
"The best thing for fans is to have young talent coming up together," Kasten said. "That's what's cool with Washington right now."
The Nationals own in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper possibly the best pitcher-position player tandem to arrive together since Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden brought their talents to the New York Mets in the 1980s.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti pushed hard with Kasten and the Guggenheim Partners management group to make Ethier the regime's first major signing. Ethier was the prize in Colletti's first big deal as the team's GM, snatching the young outfielder from Oakland in December 2005 for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez.
Seven years later, Ethier, 30, has been extended for five years and $85 million with a vesting option for a sixth year that would bring the total value to $100 million. Kemp, 27, signed an eight-year, $160 million extension in November, locking him up through 2019. While Ethier's extension is the first big personnel transaction by the new ownership group, the Kemp signing likely was influenced indirectly by the pending ownership change.
"I think it's vital, especially in this day and age where guys don't usually stay in one place a long time," Colletti said. "Players understand the city, its culture.
"You can always go sign a free agent and put somebody else in a spot. But they're not going to understand the Dodgers or the culture of the Dodgers or the city. When you have guys in place for a long time, you're obviously more comfortable."
The most recent World Series champions to repeat were the Yankees of 1998, 1999 and 2000. In the 1970s, before free agency peaked, the Athletics (three in a row), Reds and Yankees all repeated as champs.
"It's tough to keep guys together," Colletti said. "You're watching the World Series, and you hear that this guy's going to be a free agent. The day after somebody wins, guys are declaring [as free agents]. It's always in flux.
"If you keep your core together, you don't have to train people. You guys can train people. You've got to keep guys like Matt and Andre around you. I rarely do a deal in-season, but it was important with the free-agent clock ticking and him wanting to stay here."
As a tandem, Ethier and Kemp call to mind Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in some respects. Colletti was employed by the Giants when Bonds and Kent were beating up National League clubs. The obvious difference here is that Kemp and Ethier make no secret of liking each other.
"They're right-left guys that do push each other," Colletti said. "I see some similarities ... They're competitive and they've got respect for each other. They came up together, played together. They played in the [Arizona] Fall League, one [Ethier] as an [Oakland] A, the other as a Dodger.
"When you grow up with somebody like that, [eventually] you come close to free agency and you're an established player," Colletti said. "They've been to the playoffs together three times, been in All-Star Games. When you have all that experience together, you want to be at the top together."
As it turned out, it was Kemp's hamstring injury that has underscored Ethier's value. The right fielder continued to drive in runs -- he leads the league with 53 -- and owns a .509 slugging mark. Without him in Kemp's absence, the Dodgers would have no authoritative power source.
Ethier alluded to the respect and support his teammates have shown him, joking how Kemp might have begun the campaign to keep him with his tweets.
"It's important to have those two," Colletti said. "When Matt Kemp goes down, the focus shifts to the entire club, but particularly [Ethier]. He's in the middle of the lineup, and you need that production."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, in his customary meeting with the media in the dugout before Tuesday night's game, looked almost as happy as his No. 3 hitter.
"Andre obviously wanted to be here and expressed it," Mattingly said. "I think it's important to Dre that the organization is committed to getting better, to where it was before.
"Obviously, everybody's going to get paid. But they also want to win. Signing two of our keystone guys shows to me that the organization is serious about moving forward and getting better."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.