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With Adam Dunn Gone, Washington Nationals Have Chance to Get It Right

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 24:  Adam Dunn #44 of the Washington Nationals rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on September 24, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 2, 2010

Well, it finally happened. Adam Dunn has gone the way of Al Capone, making his living on the South side of Chicago.

And at $14 million per year for four years, he's making Capone-type money too.

Now, let's be objective for just a moment. This is like that time our favorite girlfriend jilted us, and we hurt and were angry, but didn't see at the time that it was the best thing that could have happened.

Adam Dunn is one of the worst-fielding first basemen in the league. He puts up impressive numbers, but not when the game is on the line. He batted just .169 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

With the bases loaded, he was even worse, batting just .125. Dunn hit .146 in the 9th inning. A full 20-percent of his at-bats went to 0-2 and he ended up batting .139/.162/269 with three home runs and six RBI in those 108 at-bats.

His strikeouts went up last season while his on-base percentage went down.

He'll be 36 years old in the final year of the contract.

And Dunn will earn $14 million a year?

I remember when Alfonso Soriano left Washington after the 2006 season when he hit .277-46-95 with 41 steals. He signed an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. Nationals fans were angered because of the perceived cheapness of ownership.

Soriano was 30 and supposedly in the prime of his career.

Over the four seasons he has played with the Cubbies, Soriano has aged four years, earned $72 million and averaged .271-26-70 while continuing to play poor defense. The Nationals received two top picks in the 2007 amateur draft, one of whom turned out to be Jordan Zimmerman.

Soriano's contract—and play—has hampered the Cubs the past few seasons. They would love nothing more than finding some team to take him off of their hands. But alas, no one is stupid enough.

Earlier today, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said that the loss of Dunn was "a shame" because he wanted to remain in Washington. Well, he also wanted to stay in the National League. And he didn't want to be a designated hitter at this stage of his career.

Or so he said. In other words, it was all about money.

So the Nationals saved $14 million by not signing Adam Dunn. Looking at 2009's free agency signings, the Nationals could have added these three players for a little less than the total of Dunn's yearly contract:

CF Marlon Byrd: .293-12-66

1B Adam LaRoche: .261-25-100

2B Kelly Johnson: .271-26-71

For $13.2 million, these three players would have given the Nationals a combined .277 batting average, 63 home runs and 237 RBI. All three are solid defenders and better than the players they would have replaced.

At a certain talent level, baseball players begin to earn more than they are worth. Adam Dunn is one of those players. Shared among those three players, $14 million would have given the Nationals 25 more home runs and 135 more RBI than Adam Dunn alone.

Sure, Dunn was a great team player and great in the clubhouse. But he couldn't field, didn't hit well in the clutch and played just one position.

The Nationals could have spent $14 million for one player, or they could spend the same amount for three above-average major league players.

To me, it's a no-brainer. Put Marlon Byrd, Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche on the 2010 team, take away Adam Dunn, and the Nationals win 75-77 games, maybe more.

All of this, of course, presupposes that the Nationals will not sit on that saved cash and will instead sign more free agents or use it to pay players they may trade for.

Subjectively, the Nationals and their fans are smarting a bit tonight. But objectively, not signing Adam Dunn could be the turning point for this once moribund franchise.

And remember, two other teams walked away from Adam Dunn before today. I think that says far more about the player than the team he left.

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