Dunn Hits the Free Agent Market

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, November 02, 2010 | , | 0 comments »

Adam Dunn hitting his 300th career home run at Nats Park in 2009.
 (Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network)
With the conclusion of the World Series, several Nationals filed for free agency late last night according to accounts.  They naturally include Adam Dunn, the powerful but defensively challenged first baseman, along with utilityman Willie Harris, outfielder Kevin Mench and relief pitcher Miguel Batista.  Adam Kennedy can file once the Nats decline his $2 million option for 2011.

Dunn obviously is the big name there, and his fortunes are tied up in his prodigious bat.  The Nats have five days to negotiate with him exclusively before he can start fielding offers from around baseball.  His case is going to be very interesting to watch, as the Nats were really the only team that gave him a credible offer the last time he was a free agent. 

His camp fully expects to receive four-year offers to counter the two- or three-year deals the Nats might have discussed with him.  There are several teams rumored to be in the mix, including the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, where the Nats almost traded him last summer.  But it remains to be seen if another National League team will be willing to go that long on a contract considering Dunn's defensive deficiencies.

Dunn hit .260/.356/.536 in 2010 with 38 home runs and 103 RBIs.  It was his seventh consecutive season with at least 38 home runs.  However, 2010 also marked his lowest OBP season in any season he's qualified for the batting title and he drastically wore down as the season went along, hitting .228/.342/.545 in August and .227/.333/.432 in Sept./Oct. with just five home runs the last five weeks of the season.

GM Mike Rizzo must decide how much -- and for how long -- Dunn might be worth to the Nationals.  Should Dunn depart, it would leave a gaping hole in the batting order without any serious in-house candidates for replacement.  Looking at available free agents in the market, there really aren't any players of Dunn's offensive caliber either.

But is locking up $15 million per year for three or four years on one player a luxury the Nationals can afford?  With so many places to upgrade on the roster, and with the core of this team's talent still under the age of 26, should the Nats be tying up long-term money on a player that might not be around by the time their core reaches their peak? 

If Rizzo thinks Dunn can produce at or near his historic levels, and maintain those levels into his mid-late 30's, he should wrap him up and pencil in their cleanup hitter.  But it's a big call to have to make, especially with a player that provides negative value on defense.