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Facing Bleak Future, Washington Nationals Must Re-sign Adam Dunn

Farid RushdiAnalyst ISeptember 25, 2009

DENVER - JULY 06:  Adam Dunn #44 of the Washington Nationals doubles against the Colorado Rockies during MLB action at Coors Field on July 6, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Nationals 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Should the Washington Nationals try to sign Adam Dunn to a multiyear contract during the offseason?

Dunn, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal last February, was willing to sign a longer contract, but someone—maybe owner Ted Lerner, perhaps team president Stan Kasten—said no.

Bill Ladson, beat writer for nationals.com, wrote this week that if given the chance he would trade Dunn for prospects.

General Manager Mike Rizzo will no doubt receive many calls this offseason from teams in need of a generational slugger.

The Nationals, then, have four options regarding their slugging first baseman. They can extend his contract and make him an important piece of the team’s future. They can trade him during the offseason to a contending team in need of a middle-of-the-lineup bat.

They can trade him at next year’s July 31st trading deadline. And finally, the Nationals can let him leave as a free agent after the season and grab the compensation pick(s).

So what to do?

Many teams would love to add Adam Dunn to their lineup, but three, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels, could really use him and can afford him.

Though very happy with Mark Teixiera at first base, the Yankees used 35-year-old Hideki Matsui as the team’s designated hitter this season, and though his production is still good enough, he is in the last year of his contract and I doubt the Yankees will want to resign him due to his age and health issues.

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, who is experiencing his second bad year in a row, is likely going to be playing somewhere else in 2010 (though he is under contract through next year).

Always having to fight off the Yankees, Boston can’t have a designated hitter hitting .234 with a .325 on-base percentage and hope to win their division.

And the Angels, who seem to quietly win the American League West every year, will almost certainly be parting ways with Vladimir Guerrero after this season. Guerrero, in the last year of his contract, is 34 and has produced just 15 homers and 47 RBI this year.

All three teams have rich farm systems, but what would they be willing to give up for a player with just one more year on his contract? I would guess the Nationals might get a ‘AAA’ prospect—a good one but not great—and a promising player in the lower minor leagues, along with an organizational type player.

I’m just not sure that is enough, though.

Another option would be to trade Dunn during the season to a contending team that needs a slugger. But Dunn would be little more than a two-month rental, and teams aren’t as apt to offer top prospects for short-term fixes anymore.

The days of Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell are all but over.

Just two years ago, the Cincinnati Reds, knowing they had no chance of signing Dunn to a long-term deal, shipped their slugger to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were on the periphery of a pennant race that year.

They received three players, pitchers Micah Owings and Dallas Buck, and outfielder Wilkin Castillo.

Owings, who had shown some promise with Arizona, is 7-12, 5.26 with the Reds this season. Buck pitched poorly for the Reds’ ‘AA’ affiliate this year and Castillo batted .221 for ‘AAA’ Louisville with a .234 on-base percentage.

In other words, the Reds gave up a future Hall of Famer for three players who will likely never make an impact at the major league level.

And that was the best deal they could find.

Another option would be to do nothing and allow Dunn to leave as a free agent after the 2010 season. As mentioned, if the Nationals offered Dunn arbitration and he turned it down, the team would receive two compensatory picks for their loss.

However, if he accepted arbitration, the team would have him under contract for another year, but at a price much higher than the $10 million he’s currently earning. And seeing as the Nationals could have had him for that third year for $10 million, arbitration doesn’t seem to make sense for Washington, at least financially.

That leaves the final option of signing Dunn to a long-term contract.

Dunn will be 30 next season and at an age where he likely won’t be part of the franchise when it finally becomes a winner. That, of course, assumes the Nationals are still committed to “The Plan” of building their team using their now percolating farm system.

Of course, “The Plan” has gone the way of health care reform’s “public option.”

Josh Willingham will be 31 next season and Nyjer Morgan will be 30. Cristian Guzman will be 32.

When the Nationals take the field next spring, half of their starting lineup will be age 30 or older, not exactly what Stan Kasten had in mind when he conceived his youth movement two years ago.

Not signing Dunn, then, makes no sense. One less 30-year-old does not a young team make.

The Nationals control Willingham for two more years and Morgan for three. Wouldn’t it make more sense to extend Dunn’s contract and keep the lineup intact?

Here are the 162-game averages of the players likely to return in 2010:

CF—Nyjer Morgan: .303-3-40 (.361 OBP) 42 steals

SS—Cristian Guzman: .272-8-55 (.307 OBP)

3B—Ryan Zimmerman: .284-25-100 (.346 OBP)

1B—Adam Dunn: .250-40-100 (.384 OBP)

LF—Josh Willingham: .267-26-84 (.365 OBP)

RF—Elijah Dukes: .260-19-91 (.351 OBP)

C—Jesus Flores: .266-17-101 (.361 OBP)

2B—Who knows?

With Dunn, all that stands between the Nationals and a .500 type of season—maybe better—is a competent second baseman, two starting pitchers (one if they resign Livan Hernandez) and one or two quality relievers.

Three or four players can help turn the team around.

If, however, Dunn is traded, the remaining pieces just aren’t strong enough to win more than 70-75 games.

Adam Dunn is a lot like Ryan Zimmerman in that neither put money, or fame, above winning. Zimmerman waited to sign his long-term contract until he was sure the Nationals were heading in the right direction.

Dunn would likely do the same if he felt comfortable that the 100-loss seasons were a thing of the past. Zimmerman recently told Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell that Dunn likes playing in Washington and said that "I wouldn't be surprised if he stays here the rest of his career."

How much would Dunn cost? I’d say four years and $52 million would be about right.

Jordan Zimmermann will return late next year. Stephen Strasburg will be in the rotation by then as well. Drew Storen should be the closer. Add the ever competent John Lannan, a Livan-type veteran and one of the team’s many pitching prospects, and 2011 could be a turnaround year for the Washington Nationals.

That is, if Adam Dunn is still with the team.

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