Nationals, Dunn talks about possible contract extension during 'Hot Stove' luncheon

"He's a guy that fits for us long-term," GM Mike Rizzo says of Adam Dunn, who has one year left on his contract. (Richard A. Lipski/the Washington Post)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 30, 2010

All told, Adam Dunn has spent just 351 days as a member of the Washington Nationals, a tenure trumped many times over by his 25-year-old teammates Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan. With the Nationals, Dunn has appeared in fewer games than luminaries such as Ryan Langerhans (176) and Robert Fick (178). Just one calendar year ago, he was a wayward free agent searching for his third team in six months.

Yet it's taken Dunn just one season in the District to recategorize himself. His role has become central not just to the lineup, but to the organization. Though he joined the Nationals on a two-year contract, it became clear Friday that Washington's front office wants Dunn for years to come.

Dunn, 30, and the Nationals have opened talks aimed at a contract extension that would reinforce the first baseman's prominent role in Washington's building project. Entering the final season of his two-year, $20 million deal, Dunn said on Friday that the extension is "something I want to do." Talks are still preliminary -- Dunn described them at "stage zero" -- but the mutual interest underscores the satisfaction on both sides. Dunn feels comfortable in Washington. And the Nationals, thin on power-hitting prospects in the minors, don't want a lineup without him. General Manager Mike Rizzo on Friday described Dunn, along with Lannan and Zimmerman, as one of the team's "staples."

The developments with Dunn became a matter of public discussion -- and applause -- during Friday afternoon's "Hot Stove" luncheon with season ticket holders, an event at Nationals Park. Dunn, wearing a camouflage Texas Longhorns trucker hat, was among the players in attendance, and together with several hundred fans he listened to a post-lunch Q&A, moderated by David Gregory. The panelists: President Stan Kasten, Rizzo, Manager Jim Riggleman and third baseman Zimmerman.

Midway through the hour-long Q&A, a fan asked Rizzo if there was a timetable to extend Dunn's contract, because "we'd really like to see him retire as a National."

The season-ticket holders cheered, supporting the notion.

"It's something that we've discussed with Adam and his people," Rizzo said. "We had a little conversation this afternoon about it. Seriously, he's become one of the family. We love him here. He had a terrific season for us last year, he's one of the most consistent players in the league, and he's a guy that fits for us long-term."

Rizzo, speaking to the media, later acknowledged that the Friday meeting was the first time the sides had discussed an extension.

"We'd like to get an extension done," Rizzo said. "There's no time parameter or anything, so I have no expectations. No timetables, no time limits."

The luncheon gave Washington team officials a chance not just to talk about future plans, but to show off recent additions. Matt Capps and Jason Marquis, both free agent signees earlier this winter, were among the attendees.

"We came into this offseason with some very specific, identifiable needs, and I think we moved aggressively in the first half of the offseason to address them," Kasten said.

Washington is not done making moves. The Nationals covet another veteran starting pitcher, and they would like to improve their defense by adding either a second baseman or a shortstop. The most obvious candidate is free agent Orlando Hudson, but Hudson has drawn interest from at least six teams. If Hudson goes elsewhere, the Nationals might look to make a trade.

Dunn, a close friend of Hudson's, has doubled as a recruiter in the recent weeks, and said that Hudson absolutely wants to come to Washington; in fact, Dunn made it seem like the Nats are Hudson's top choice. "From his point, this is where he wants to be; it's true," Dunn said.

So why the delay?

"It could be one of two things," Dunn said. "It's either money or length of time."

Nationals note: On Friday, Washington signed right-handed pitcher Miguel Batista to a minor league contract, giving the team another bullpen option. Batista, who turns 39 in February, appeared in 56 games (71 1/3 innings pitched) last season with Seattle, finishing with a 4.04 ERA.

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