- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers finalized their signing of two-time All-Star right fielder Andre Ethier to a five-year, $85 million contract extension Tuesday, the latest step in the ongoing effort to lock up the team's core of young talent.
Ethier said a key factor in his decision to accept a long-term deal from the Dodgers rather than testing a potentially more lucrative free-agent market in the fall was a result of the assurances from general manager Ned Colletti and new team president Stan Kasten that team officials will make every effort -- including spending money -- to keep the club competitive.
"I know for a fact that Ned and Stan ... are going to try their hardest to make this the best team and the best organization, as it should be, and give this city and these fans something to be proud of the next couple of years," Ethier said. "I guess today is one of the starting points toward doing that."
The deal, which begins next season and runs through 2017, also includes a vesting club option for 2018 for $17.5 million with a $2.5 million buyout.
Ethier will receive salaries of $13.5 million in 2013, $15.5 million in 2014, $18 million each in 2015 and 2016, and $17.5 million in 2017. The option will vest if Ethier has at least 550 plate appearances in 2017 or at least 1,100 plate appearances combined in 2016-17.
Ethier has reached 550 plate appearances in each of the past four seasons despite missing the final three weeks of last season following knee surgery. Because of that surgery, Colletti said he wanted to wait until the season was well under way before deciding whether to lock up Ethier.
"I rarely do deals in season, but there are special occasions here and there when I will entertain doing so," Colletti said. "No signing is simple. We did need to see a little bit of how he was going to bounce back after having his knee operated on last September. When we saw him perform and saw the mechanics of his swing, we saw him actually better than he was a year earlier, so that wasn't as much of a concern."
The impetus for the agreement was a conversation between Ethier and Colletti last December at Ethier's Phoenix-area home.
Colletti discussed, in general terms with specifics, the possibility of signing Ethier to a long-term deal. At the time, the Dodgers still were in bankruptcy under former owner Frank McCourt, and no buyer had been identified, a fact that handcuffed Colletti in terms of most major deals.
It was within the past two to three weeks, Colletti said, with the Guggenheim Baseball Group having completed its purchase of the team and installed Kasten to run day-to-day operations, that Colletti began having in-depth discussions with Ethier's agent, Nez Balelo. Both parties knew time was of the essence because the season was ongoing and the negotiations potentially could become a distraction for one of the Dodgers' key players.
That meant those negotiations couldn't begin from opposite sides of a chasm.
"Whenever you negotiate a deal in season, you need to do it in a rapid way," Colletti said. "You can't let it drag on. You try to bring a positive resolution as soon as you can."
Ethier said the decision to pass up free agency wasn't a hard one given the assurances he received from Colletti and Kasten and the comfort level he felt in the clubhouse.
"This is the best group of guys we have had in my seven years here," said Ethier, who was the Dodgers' first trade acquisition (from the Oakland Athletics) after Colletti was named GM in November 2005. "I would like to give a lot of credit to them for the start I have had this year. ... You don't realize how much that plays a role on you every day. This game is tough enough to show up 162 games a year. If things aren't going well at home or aren't going well in the clubhouse, it makes it even tougher.
"But this spring, from day one, that wasn't the case. These guys enjoyed each other, knew their roles and knew where they needed to be. Guys pull for each other. This is a fun place to be when that happens. That is something to be said for the people who put this team together."
Ethier's signing comes on the heels of two others by the Dodgers. At the end of spring training last year, they locked up right-hander Chad Billingsley with a three-year, $35 million deal that didn't begin until this season. Last winter, shortly before that initial meeting between Colletti and Ethier, the Dodgers signed star center fielder Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million contract, the richest in franchise history.
It is a clear indication that one of the goals is to keep the core of the team together as long as possible, something that caused Kasten to reminisce on his own time as president of the Atlanta Braves, who won 14 consecutive division titles during his tenure.
"I don't know if [the Braves] were successful because they stayed together or if they stayed together because they were successful," Kasten said. "But I do know it felt better for the fans. They felt like they grew up with that team. ... [Ethier] is good on the field, he is an All-Star, a Gold Glove player. He is obviously a solid family person who loves this community and has worked in this community. That is a solid profile.
"That is what we want the Dodgers to be. It is special to be a Dodger. The more players we can get to feel that way, the better off we will all be."
1hAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com