Thursday, July 8, 2010

What to Do with Dunn

Give Adam Dunn credit--he's done everything possible over the past year and a half to increase his marketability as a trade chip. He's a truly marketable player who could help the Nationals and a lot of other teams too.

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 Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Troy Glaus, Derrek Lee, and Paul Konerko. Guys like Adam LaRoche and Lance Berkman could be out there too, depending on what happens with options.

(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.

20 comments:

Positively Half St. said...

That is a very compelling argument. I really don't see any other way that the Nats get young position players, because the draft hasn't helped much yet and even older players like Orlando Hudson turn them down. Dunn really could help a team that is looking to win now, and if he really doesn't want to be a DH, I agree that the Nats would be in a great position to resign him.

I do think the Nats will have little trouble making 70 wins this year, though, unless they actually do trade Adam Dunn.

Eric said...

Worst case is still offere arbitration and either get Dunn for 1 more year or get 2 draft picks. If someone want to give us a top pitcher (Rays' Niemann or Whitsox Hudson?)then I'm all for it.

Extending Dunn beyone 2 years or maybe a club option for 3 makes no sense. I think he deserves a 4-5 year deal, but let an AL team give it to him since they have DH as insurance.

Black Charles said...

For what it's worth, the market for 1B this winter will NOT include Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder - those guys aren't free until after the '11 season (along with Pujols, should he not sign an extension with the Cards). In fact, were either of those guys free this winter, it'd certainly be Fielder, and not Dunn, who would be the "most obvious trade chip in baseball not named Cliff Lee." So while that doesn't take away anything from your larger point - I agree, the Nats signing Dunn to an extension, particularly a longer term one is probably not the wisest move - it's not like the Nats can let him leave, throw the supposed stash of $$ they offered to Teixeira two winters ago at Gonzalez (and to a lesser extent) Fielder and instantly improve in the near and long term and instantly upgrade. You'd have to wait for 2012 to do that.

mw said...

Considering our recent failures in luring free agents (Tex, Hudson, Dye, even Dunn accepted grudgingly), I honestly don't think we have prayer of signing Gonzalez or Fielder. And assuming Black Charles has it right, who plays 1B next year? Morero has 8 errors (I think) and is sporting a sub-.800 ops at AA. Dunn might be only a 3-4 WAR player next year for most teams, but he'd likely be a 7 WANR (Wins Above Nat's Replacement) for the Nats. Finally, I don't think Dunn would be willing to re-sign with a club that traded him. I know that such things have happened in the past, but not often, and especially not with last place teams (also - I doubt we'll see a repeat of Dunn's 08 market b/c he's shown that he can play 1B).

Bottom line- Dunn's comfort level in DC gives us a rare opportunity to address a serious need - power bat w/ high obp - through free agency. Even factoring in the risk of decline, I think it's an opportunity the Nats should take.

Eric said...

Wow Steve, not great fact checking on this one, first the Who is a FA this winter mistake and then this gem;

"his (Dunn) strikeout rate and BABIP are both up by significant margins"

K% in '10 is 32.9%, he's never been below 30.9% ('05) or above 34.6% ('06) so that's not quite true.

His BABIP in '10 is .349, which is up from his '09 avg of .324 (though that's statistically insignificant for BABIP) an '08 of .258, but that number is far below his .295 career BABIP, so you are perhaps technically correct, but again your supposition is far off.

Steven said...

Here's the list of free agents available after this season. Black Charles is confused:
http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/09/2011-mlb-free-agents.html

Will said...

Um... Steven, neither Fielder or A Gonzalez are listed there as free agents. They both have club options next year. I think you're the one confused.

Steven said...

Well, whattya know about that. Weird. I've been confused about this for a very long time. Strange.

Riley said...

Black Charles and Will are correct that neither Gonzalez or Fielder are FAs after this season.

http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2001/05/potential-free-agents-for-2011.html

ckstevenson said...

That's a GREAT new stat - Wins Above Nats Replacement. I think we should actually use it going forward. Nice one.

Section 222 said...

I think @mw right. If we could be assured of signing a great FA like Fielder or Gonzales after 2011, sure it would be worth trading Dunn and living with Michael Morse at 1B for a year (if Riggs can be convinced to play him every day which for some reason he is now unwilling to do). But there's zero evidence we'll be able to do that. Dunn actually wants to play here -- he is tight with Zim and Willingham, and he is better than just about anyone we can realistically get to replace him. People continue to predict his skills will decline, and they probably will, but I'll take the 40 HRs and save our efforts for filling other holes in the lineup.

Kevin Rusch said...

so I looked at Gonzalez' and Fielders' stats -- why are they such big upgrades over Dunn? Just that they're pretty much the same hitters but field better and are younger?

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