It's the Alfonso Soriano debate all over again.

The Washington Nationals have a slugging fan favorite who's unsigned for next year. Trade talks are heated as the July 31 deadline nears. The team is not going to the playoffs and could use prospects.

The Nats must decide for the second time in four years whether to trade a popular slugger. It's the classic dilemma -- give fans something now or keep building?

Washington didn't trade Soriano in 2006 despite a career year. The Nats failed to re-sign him afterward. Actually, Washington was lucky it didn't because Soriano's $136 million tenure with the Chicago Cubs has been defined by injury and diminishing production.

Instead, Washington ended up with two 2007 compensation picks for Soriano that turned into pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker. Zimmermann is still projected as the team's No. 2 starter despite undergoing Tommy John surgery. Smoker is struggling at Class-A Hagerstown.

Now Adam Dunn poses the same question. Midway through a standout year, he's batting a career-high .288 while leading the National League with 22 home runs.

Dunn's two-year, $20 million deal ends in October where the Nats will likely finish with a losing record. Several teams are interested. After all, who couldn't use a game-changer even if he's so-so defensively and strikes out a lot?

The Nats have talked contract extension since the spring. Now they've let Dunn hit his way to an even bigger deal. It's going to cost owner Ted Lerner big money, but the Nats could lose public confidence if they don't re-sign Dunn. It would reek of being cheap.

Dunn could be traded to a contender for the season's final two months, at which point Washingtonians will switch over to the Redskins training camp. But Dunn still has a few good seasons remaining, so what would trading him say about the team's chances of contending in the near future?

With Soriano, Washington officials knew the coming years would be lean. Now they're hoping for a contender by 2013 when Dunn could still contribute. He's the core of one of baseball's top 3-4-5 combinations. Washington doesn't have a minor league successor, and the free agent market seems slim, which makes it even harder to replace Dunn.

The Soriano deal showed prospects are a gamble. Picking up a proven No. 2 starting pitcher for Dunn would be tempting, but nobody's going to do that.

The Nats really can't afford to let Dunn go. They can afford to pay him. Keeping Dunn is good business, and good baseball.

Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more at and Twitter @Snide_Remarks or e-mail