Dunn Deal: Where Do the Nats Go From Here?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , , , , | 3 comments »

So that’s it.

Adam Dunn is officially no longer property of the Washington Nationals, having signed a four year, $56 million dollar contract with the Chicago White Sox.

As I've written many times in the last several months, it was never about Dunn's defense.  Kenny Williams, GM of the American League White Sox, gave Dunn his fourth year.  That's all this was ever about.  To pretend like defense was a factor -- on either side in the negotiation -- was nothing more than a smoke screen.

GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family simply decided they had a threshold for what they would offer Dunn in terms of money -- and years -- and essentially told him to go out and find someone to beat the offer. 

Williams happily did.

The Nationals will get the White Sox first round pick in 2011's amateur draft (No. 23 overall) and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds (to be determined based on other free agent signings). 

That makes former scout Rizzo very happy. 

Whether Rizzo can turn those two picks into more productive players than what he might have been offered at last season's trade deadline won't be known for three-to-five years.  By that point, Dunn will either be on his way to Cooperstown or he'll be at the tail end of a good, but not great, career.

The big question now is:  Where do the Nats go from here?

Most of the fall, the media has speculated that if the Nats let Dunn walk they would quickly turn to free agent Carlos Pena, he of the .196 batting average in 2010. It’s a logical place to go.  As recently as 2009, Pena hit 39 homers and drove in over 100 and played credible (if not overrated) defense.  But last year saw a significant downturn in his statistics – and it wasn’t pretty.

His slash line was shocking: .196/.325/.407 in 582 plate appearances. He had 28 homers and 84 RBIs in that period as well, far below his established norms the previous three years with Tampa Bay.

What was the difference? The same thing that Dunn’s detractors fear will happen to him. He’s just getting older and less reliable.

For the last four seasons, Pena’s average and OBP has decreased from each season to the next. As his power slowly erodes, he is swinging at more balls and becoming less selective at the plate. His strikeouts are not increasing; rather he’s making an alarmingly higher number of ground outs, indicating poorer contact on the balls he does connect with.

Pena has gone from making 0.41 ground ball outs per fly ball in 2009 to 0.82 in 2010. That’s right, he's doubled the number of ground out to fly outs in one season.

It’s not a good trend.

The other indicator that his swing is eroding is his line drive percentage, which has decreased each of the last four years as well, from 22% in 2007 to 17% in 2010. Pena isn’t slumping, he’s falling off the cliff, the same way Mo Vaughn, Richie Sexson, and so many other power/batting eye guys have over the 120 year history of Major League Baseball.

It was knowing that that history that GM Mike Rizzo opted to allow Adam Dunn to leave for greener pastures.

Rizzo had to determine if he thought Dunn would follow the slow path of eroding skills to the cliff of no return, or follow Jim Thome down the path to immortality. In the end, Rizzo and the Lerners determined that they could not invest that much money in a player that provided one skill: home run power.

What this does to the eroding confidence around NatsTown in the ownership and management of this franchise is yet to be seen as far as dollars in the pocket and fans in the seats.  But early voices on social media sites and message boards are speaking load and clear: the faithful are not happy.

3 comments

  1. Anonymous // December 2, 2010 at 5:38 PM  

    Amen!

  2. Souldrummer // December 2, 2010 at 5:43 PM  

    Your Carlos Pena analysis is spot on. Wouldn't be surprised if changing leagues isn't much fun for him either. What's your take on trying to upgrade somewhere in the outfield and give Morse a run at first base as a stop gap measure?

  3. Dave Nichols // December 2, 2010 at 5:53 PM  

    SD: i think Morse is an adequate RF against left handed pitching. nothing more.

    they now need to move Willingham for a young, blocked player at first base and sign and OF or two to have any hope of avoiding 100 losses, IMO.

    none of the FA 1Bs available thrill me.