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Mortgaging the Future to Pay for the Past: Was It Worth It?

From Blez's February 2006 interview with John Sickels:

Blez: What do you think of the A's losing Ethier? Is that one that fans will regret down the line?

Sickels: I think Ethier will be a fine player, but with guys like Putnam, Buck, Herrera, and Robnett still in the system, they had the depth available to deal Ethier. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Opening with the caveat that it's rarely fair to judge past predictions (knowing that hindsight is 20/20), it's worth taking a look at this trade four years ago that sent the A's to the 2006 ALCS and Andre Ethier to the Dodgers.

Blez framed the question perfectly, as Ethier was not likely to be a regret in 2006. While he was starting his career for the Dodgers, we were too busy enjoying the A's first ALCS appearance in sixteen years to notice that Ethier's numbers as a rookie in 2006 bested Bradley's across the board.

It must be said that as someone who went to great lengths to travel to as many games as possible in 2006, including most of the stretch run and every home playoff game, I can't discount how perfect and exciting that season was as an A's fan, even three years removed.

I'd have a hard time trading 2006 for anything. That was a special, magical season of redemption, and the trade made sense at the time. It was a trade for a key starter for the 2006 and 2007 seasons (i.e. more than a mere rental); a good baseball player whose value was down because of on-and-off the field issues and personality conflicts.

Although it was a risk, I doubt the A's expected things to go as wrong with Bradley as they did during the 2007 season. Bradley played a total of 19 games for the A's in 07, was rumored to be involved in some clubhouse drama and was eventually dealt to the Padres for the oft-injured Andrew Brown. I also don't think anyone in their wildest predictions could have foreseen how good Ethier would actually be, pretty much from Day 1. The A's traded from depth and strength to make the 2006 run and it worked at the time, but there is the obviously emerging question of whether they may have traded the wrong player for the wrong player.

Like any trade that involves a prospect, the trade really can't be evaluated until years down the road, and here we are. And the conclusion is just bleak: The A's would have been better off--in the long run for sure, and perhaps even in 2006--if they had just called up Ethier and let him play.

We remember Milton Bradley for all of his dramatic moments during the season and the playoffs, and it has been widely accepted that he lead the A's to their postseason berth, but the numbers simply don't bear that out. Bradley only played in 96 games in 2006, hitting .276 with 14 home runs (one very dramatic one on AN Day), 52 RBIs, an OPS of .818, just ahead of his replacements; Jay Payton .743 and Bobby Kielty .743. In fact, Milton Bradley only once in his whole career played over 130 games in a season, only once hit over 20 home runs, and only once has had over 70 RBIs.

In contrast, Andre Ethier has been an absolute stud for the Dodgers the last four years; he is also the walk-off rival of Marco Scutaro, except with the career .294/.364/.495 line instead of Marco's .266/.337.385. In the very season he was traded, Ethier played twenty more games than Milton Bradley did, batted 30 points higher, with almost as many home runs, and a 30 percent higher slugging percentage. In his rookie year!

As an A's fan, who really questions the A's scouting system (Ethier is one of the rare offensive players from the A's system to be legitimately great, since Tejada? Chavez?), these numbers were painful to look up. As much as I enjoyed 2006, I don't want to think about what Ethier has done, or what he'll continue to do in his career. And somehow, looking at his 2006 numbers, and knowing that he could have had those numbers for us, it makes it worse. It's one thing if he was in Double-A during the playoff run. Instead, he was in the league, and actually outperformed his replacement. Ouch.

While researching Ethier a bit closer, I was surprised to see just how different a player he has been since Manny Ramirez donned the Dodger blue. The stats clearly show so far that Ethier goes from a good player to an elite one with Manny's big bat behind him. His numbers before and after Manny became a Dodger on August 1, 2008 are dramatically different. From the start of the season through the end of July, he played 95 games putting up a solid but unspectacular line of 274-11-46. After Manny arrived in Hollywood, Ethier played 45 games with amazing stats of .368-9-31 - try working out that pace over a full season! This season, in the 48 games he played while Manny was suspended for snacking in the woman's supplement aisle, he checked in at a Crosby-esque.222 with 9 HR and 25 RBI. With Manny in the lineup, Ethier has been far more productive, hitting over .300 with 21 bombs and 73 RBI in less than 100 games. So Andre is no doubt a a really good player, yes, but hard to dispute that he has benefited greatly from the superstar behind him as he has put up elite All Star level numbers when Manny is in the lineup.

If it's any consolation at all, we don't have a Manny, and we haven't since 2006. That doesn't make you feel better? Me either.

Cleveland again tonight; 7:05. A's rapidly running out of starting pitchers.