Managing a team with the highest payroll in all of American sports can certainly present its share of challenges. That’s then magnified tenfold when it involves managing egos and making the best of a crowded outfield.
The Los Angeles Dodgers spent the early stages of the season with Matt Kemp in center field, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford platooning in left, and Yasiel Puig entrenched in right. They finished the year with Puig in center, Crawford the regular starter in left, Kemp in right, and Ethier relegated to a role off the bench.
All but Puig expressed their frustration with the outfield juggling act at some point in the season and it was Puig’s ability to handle playing center field that led to the new alignment, which pleased everyone but Ethier. Although Ethier wasn’t necessarily content with the situation, he accepted it and said the team’s goal was his focus.
According to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, a source credited Mattingly for getting Ethier to accept his new role:
It was rocky at first, but Donnie handled it very well,” one source said, noting that the manager helped facilitate buy-in from Ethier, when he was pushed into the fourth outfield role. “(Ethier) handled it so well, and worked so hard,” the source said, which reflects well on both player and manager.
When it became evident Ethier wouldn’t receive much playing time in the outfield, he began to taking fielding practice at first base, but only played the position in one game as a defensive replacement. Mattingly stated in early September a resolution for the crowded outfield would need to be reached in the off-season.
Ethier was thrust into the spotlight when he replaced Puig in the starting lineup for Game 4 of the NLDS and he went 0-for-2 with two walks. Given he fell out of favor compared to the other outfielder, Ethier may be the one who is shopped most aggressively, but the $53.5 million remaining over three years makes moving him rather difficult.
Ethier’s contract also includes a $17.5 million vesting option for 2018 and $2.5 million buyout.