He's established a reputation as a not-totally-unacceptable defensive first baseman. His batting average has actually gone up at an age you expect to see declines (though that's probably a function of luck, given that his strikeout rate and BABIP are both up by significant margins). And, of course, he's continued to slug with the best of them. After last night's HR hat-trick, Dunn's at 20 for the year. His .294 ISO power is the best he's had since 2005, and he's at 2.6 wins above replacement, putting him on track for the second most valuable season of his career. The end might not be far away for Dunn and his old player skills, but it's certainly not now.
Still, with the Nationals looking like they'll struggle to get to 70 wins again this year and Dunn a free agent, the conventional wisdom is that he's the most obvious trade chip in baseball not named Cliff Lee.
You'll be shocked to learn that I disagree with Boz, who argues that the Nationals should not trade Dunn, end of story. Dunn is a valuable property, and the best option might be to re-sign him. But the free agent market for first basemen this winter is going to include
(Ed. note: it's been pointed out to me that I've been living under the misconception for a very long time that Adrian Gonzalez and Price Fielder were free agents after this year. Not sure if I lost track of what year it is or got confused about what year they're contracts are up. Possibly both.)
Dunn sat on the free agent market till February 11 in 2009. He could easily sit out there that long again, and if the Nationals want to bring him back they'd likely have a chance to do it whether they trade him now or not. And they'll likely get him for cheaper if they let him test the market than if they re-sign him now.
On the other hand, aging rentals just haven't brought back the kinds of blue-chip prospects that they used to in recent years. Good young players are highly prized because they're cheap, so it's harder than ever to flip current value for equal future value.
Long term, as a fan, the thing to root for isn't Dunn. It's Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder, who become free agents after 2011, along with Albert Pujols, if he isn't re-signed first. They're clearly the best players available. If they don't get either of those guys, then re-signing Dunn isn't the worst outcome imaginable, but to root to re-sign Dunn long-term when younger, better players are available seems like a strange thing to do.
In the near term, clearly you don't want them to give Dunn away for a package of C-level prospects. And that might be the best offer they get. Again, the market for Dunn never really materialized after 2008, and he's only two years older now.
So what they need is a team that thinks Dunn is the key to a championship and will make the Nationals an offer they can't refuse. That's why the best news of all might be the rumors that Kenny Williams might be interested. No GM in baseball is more aggressive about going for it every year--this it the guy who grabbed Alex Rios and a contract no one wanted and traded for Jake Peavy while he was on the DL in hopes that he'd come to Chicago, heal up, and make them a champion.
Ken Rosenthal says the Nationals are asking for Gordon Beckham or Carlos Quentin. Those would be great deals for Washington, but don't expect Chicago to go for either of those offers. Then again, the Sox have an impressive farm system of big league-ready prospects like Tyler Flowers, Dan Hudson, and Jordan Danks. If Williams is as hot on Dunn as the rumors say, a very favorable deal for the Nationals might happen.
So, in the meantime, here's what fans should do: 1. ignore Boz, 2. root for the White Sox to win, and 3. keep your powder dry and wait till things play out before deciding whether they booted this chance.