As Andre Ethier stood at the lectern, beaming in the glow of his new contract extension, a series of television screens hanging to the side showed highlights of the Dodgers’ right fielder over the years.
The physical difference was obvious in Ethier, who has shed at least one layer of baby fat since he broke into the majors in 2006. Ethier copped to some emotional maturity, too.
“The biggest thing I realized over the last couple years, the ups and downs of this game, is how much you take for granted,” he said. “I’m 30 years old and still putting on a uniform for a living.”
Ethier will have another five more years to grow into his jersey. Maybe six.
His new $85 million extension, officially announced Tuesday, runs through 2017 and includes a $17.5million option for 2018. He’ll make at least $87.5 million total thanks to a $2.5 million buyout.
The contract does not include a no-trade clause.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said it’s only the fifth time he has signed a player to a contract extension in 25years as a baseball executive.
“Whenever you enter into a deal in-season, you have to do it in a rapid way,” Colletti said. “When you start the negotiation, you have to bring it to a positive result as soon as you can.”
The entire process took about two weeks, although Ethier’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, broached the subject early and often in the season.
Colletti was forced to wait because
the Dodgers were in the middle of a transfer of ownership.
Guggenheim Baseball Management officially took control of the Dodgers on May 1 and Ethier took time to thank new chairman Mark Walter, team president Stan Kasten, and minority partners Magic Johnson and Peter Guber.
“They’re not looking to get guys at a discount. They have the resources to do it,” Ethier said, pointing to the Milwaukee Brewers’ decision to re-sign one homegrown slugger (Ryan Braun) while letting another (Prince Fielder) sign with the Detroit Tigers.
“Mr. Walter has made that known they’re not going to let those things come in the way of success.”
There was another valid reason to wait until June to re-sign Ethier.
Bothered by a knee injury, his production dipped precipitously last season – he batted .300 in June, .261 in July, .253 in August and .188 in September before finally undergoing season-ending surgery.
Ethier showed no hint of trouble from the start of spring training, where he hit .385 with three home runs and a team-leading 16 RBIs.
That production continued into the regular season. Batting almost exclusively out of the cleanup spot, Ethier led the National League with 53 RBIs at the start of Tuesday, to go with 10 homers and a .287 batting average.
“We did need to see a little of how his knee would bounce back,” Colletti said. “He was better than he actually had been a year earlier.”
Teammates Matt Kemp, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Javy Guerra attended Ethier’s news conference. If Kemp – the Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter when healthy – lobbied for Ethier to re-sign privately, he did more lobbying in public via his Twitter account.
In the end, Kemp didn’t need to do much lobbying. Ethier seemed perfectly at ease flanked by his wife, Maggie, and young sons Dreson and Retton. If he didn’t feel at home in Southern California since reaching the major leagues, Ethier always hid it well.
“I wasn’t looking anywhere else,” he said. “You could fight for a lot of extra money but you come to a point where you know what’s right.”