I confess I am utterly baffled that the Washington Nationals have not signed Adam Dunn to a new contract deal. For those of you who aren’t a fan of the Nats (or might not follow baseball all that closely), let me give you a run-down of the situation.
Any team that expect to compete for the playoffs for more than a year here or there needs two things on the field: a good crop of young talent and a few savvy veterans. The young players are your future stars, playing hungry and getting better each year. The vets provide stable performance, leadership for the young players, and cohesion to hold the team together during the rough spots in a season. The Nats have young talent, both with the big-league club and in the minors ready to step up to the bigs. Getting the right veterans is the trick. The Nats need experienced players with three hard-to-find qualities.
1) The desire to play for a team that won’t contend for the World Series for a couple years.
2) The willingness to be a role model for younger players.
3) A few years of strong performance before age causes a decline.
Adam Dunn has all three of those. Let me show you.
1) Adam Dunn wants to play in Washington. He has made that very plain on more than one occasion.
2) Adam Dunn is already good friends with young star Ryan Zimmerman, who very much wants Dunn to stay. He’s become a clubhouse leader and seems to enjoy the role.
3) Dunn is 30 years old. His production, barring last year when he was injured, is as constant as the North Star. In fact, his production during the last few years has made him one of the premiere power hitters in the game. He doesn’t have a history of being hurt and there’s no reason to expect that he can’t continue to hit as he has for the next few years.
Heck, let me show you his home run numbers since 2004: 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38. His RBI numbers are equally stunning: 108, 114, 112, 101, 122, 116. This year, he ha 22 home runs and 50 RBI and is hitting .288, over 30 points better than his career average. He has a fantastic eye for the strike zone; only once since 2002 had he had fewer than 101 walks and only once has he finished outside the Top Ten in that category (he led the league in 2008, finished second in 2009, and finished third three other years).
In other words, Dunn is a run-scoring, run-producing machine. He drives an offense to produce more, which means more wins. Add to that his popularity on the team and his desire to play in Washington and, well, why wouldn’t you want this guy on your team?
Okay, maybe cost is an issue. The Nationals could most likely lock Dunn down to a three-year deal worth somewhere around 40 million dollars. That’s about $13.3 million a year. That may seem like a lot of money to you (heck, it is a lot of money!) but for a ballplayer with his numbers and his age and his intangible qualities, that’s a steal. Mark Teixiera, the big prize of the free agent market the year Dunn signed with Washington, got an 8-year deal worth $180 million. That’s $22.5 million a year and his stats aren’t quite as good as Dunn’s even though he’s the same age. Dunn could easily get upwards of $15 million on the market at the end of the year, which means that if the Nationals wait, he’ll cost them a lot more. It makes all the sense in the world for them to sign him now at the price he’s been asking and no sense at all to keep delaying the decision.