Wanted to weigh in on the hottest topic in Nats Town since Stephen Strasburg made the Pirates look like a junior-high baseball team last month. What is general manager Mike Rizzo going to do about first baseman Adam Dunn?
The 30-year-old slugger is willing to stay in Washington. But he wants to get paid after finding a limited market as a free agent after the 2008 season. He settled on a two-year, $20 million deal with the Nats. But after hitting another 38 home runs last season and 22 already in 2010, Dunn figures to have more leverage on the open market this time around. His OPS last season was .928. This year it is .950. He is one of the game’s most efficient offensive players. And yet the Nats appear unwilling to commit to Dunn – at least so far. The two sides didn’t work out a deal before the season as Dunn had hoped. Now we’re close to the trade-deadline window on July 31 with contending teams making proposals. Found this item from the Chicago Sun-Times fascinating.
To save you time, here’s the money quote: ''The problem [White Sox GM] Kenny [Williams] is finding out is that [Nationals GM Mike] Rizzo is acting like Dunn is Ryan Howard,'' the source said.
Well then - challenge accepted. Hate to break it to this anonymous source, but the difference between Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn is minimal at best. The two player were born 10 days apart in 1979 so age isn’t a factor. Let’s look at OPS+ - a stat that quantifies a players’ offensive production as measured against league average while also accounting for the ballpark – or bandbox – that they play in. League average for OPS+ is defined as 100.
Howard - who signed a five-year, $125 million extension this spring with Philadelphia - is the better overall player. But there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference here save the 2006 season. Certainly not enough to make a disparaging comment like the one above from the Sun-Times' anonymous source. Howard has 219 homers since 2006. Dunn has 180. But the great thing about OPS+ is it smoothes out the differences in ballpark advantages.
Now, I’ve left out the defensive side of the ball so far. Dunn is notoriously bad as an outfielder. But my eyes say he’s actually adjusted pretty well to first base. The UZR/150 stat, an advanced defensive metric, agrees - though it can be unreliable in limited sample sizes. In 88 games at first base in 2010 Dunn has a UZR/150 of -1.1. Last year – his first time playing the position – it was -30.8 in 67 games. That’s terrible, of course. But if Dunn really has improved to a -1.1 player at the position? That’s Howard’s career mark as a first baseman.
Anyway, my point is that the gap between Howard and Dunn isn’t so wide that the Nats need to take on whatever mid-level prospects a team like the White Sox throws at them. And let’s be honest, Chicago’s farm system is mediocre. It just is. Moving Dunn, one of the sport’s best offensive players, in a deal where someone like 23-year-old pitcher Dan Hudson is the main piece would be bizarre. Hudson aspires to be a mid-rotation pitcher. Every team needs one. But not at the cost of your best offensive player. Is Dan Hudson and spare parts - because that's all the Sox have to offer if major-league second baseman Gordon Beckham or outfielder Carlos Quentin isn't in the deal - worth the locker-room upheaval that will come with trading Dunn? In my opinion, Rizzo just isn't going to do that. He's said repeatedly a team acquiring Dunn will pay a heavy price. He's not going to back off that for Hudson and change. The Nats would be better served to re-sign Dunn after the season - if they can - or just offer him arbitration and take two high draft picks if he leaves. Better yet – find a team to trade with that doesn’t think a Ryan Howard-Adam Dunn comparison is crazy. Or just pay the man the reported four-year, $60 million contract he wants. That's $15 million per year for Dunn compared to $25 million for Howard. There isn't a $10 million difference between the two.
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