By Tracee Hamilton
Sunday, July 25, 2010; D01
Should the Nationals trade Adam Dunn? Absolutely not.
Oh, all right, let's discuss that one some more, then, since the Nats have until Saturday's trade deadline to entertain offers. In the meantime, they can continue to try to re-sign Dunn. If they're smart, that's exactly what happens. But let's look at their options.
There is no question Dunn is one of the most attractive dishes on the trade buffet this week. It has been widely reported that the White Sox have offered anyone in their minor league system for Dunn as they try to hold off the Tigers and Twins for the AL Central title. The Red Sox and Giants have also been mentioned as interested parties, among others.
However, the baseball world seems to be collectively chiding GM Mike Rizzo for his high asking price for Dunn. The baseball world needs to get over it. This is not a "Going Out of Business" sale. Whether you believe the Nats are close to contention or still a season or two away, the Nats believe they are close. And they are not a desperate team with no hope on the horizon and a bloated roster of highly paid, underachieving veterans. Look elsewhere for a fire sale.
One wag said the Nats were treating Dunn like he was Ryan Howard. Well, to the Nats, he is. He leads the team in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage, and is third in walks.
And yes, he's second in the majors in strikeouts (120) and his batting average (.279) isn't great and he has no stolen bases, nor is he likely to. Nobody's perfect.
His numbers this season are better than Howard's, however. Dunn's on-base percentage is .368, to Howard's .361. Howard's slugging percentage is .544, Dunn's is .565. Howard's OPS is .905; Dunn's is .933, third best in the National League. He has one more homer than Howard.
Howard's average is better -- .302 -- and he has more RBI, but he's had more RBI opportunities as well. The Phillies went through a hitting slump this season, but nothing to compare to that of the Nationals.
Of course, that's this season. Howard should end his career with better numbers than Dunn's. For the money he's making, he should end his career with better numbers than a lot of people. But at this moment, Dunn is among the league leaders in a number of categories. You can't expect to pick him up for a bag of balls.
One notion that's been floated -- trade Dunn now, sign him back in the offseason, is a non-starter. He'll be more expensive in the offseason, when every team can bid for his services. And a mercenary move like that would surely kill the loyalty he feels to the franchise.
And he definitely feels that loyalty, at least for now. The one caveat to my "keep him" position is this: If Rizzo is sure that because of the delay in re-signing him, and the incessant trade talk, Dunn has soured on the team, then trade him. If he tests the free agent waters, the undertow of offseason spending will carry him right out of town and on to someone else's roster. So if Dunn is done in D.C., Rizzo should get what he can.
That said, Dunn has given no indication that that is the case. Sure, he's sick of answering the constant questions about his renegotiations and his trade potential, but that ends in one week. He likes it in Washington. He likes his teammates and by all appearances they like him.
In particular, Ryan Zimmerman likes him. And next to Stephen Strasburg (and possibly Scott Boras), Zimmerman is the guy the Nats would most like to keep happy. He's the linchpin.
"It's not my decision or my money to spend, but it seems like you'd want to extend [the contracts of] Dunn and [Josh] Willingham to keep us together and see what we can accomplish," Zimmerman told Thomas Boswell earlier this month. "People are talking about breaking it up. Man, we're way too close right now to do that."
Trading Dunn for a big league-ready minor leaguer also would not put fans in the seats. The Nats have gotten the expected attendance bump from Strasburg's arrival, but he can't start an entire homestand. Short of having him juggling flaming chainsaws on the dugout roof during the seventh-inning stretch, the club needs to find other draws.
Losing the team's best power hitter guarantees even more empty seats for the final two months of the season.
Of Rizzo's options, then, re-signing the 30-year-old for three or four years is the most attractive. If the Nats lose him to free agency after the season, there is the consolation prize of two more-than-decent draft picks -- but they aren't going to find a player in the draft who can hit 30-plus homers in the big leagues next season. If the Nats trade him, they anger their franchise player and much of their fan base, and lose their best hitter at a time when hitting has been a problem.
Rizzo has said he wants Dunn here. He also needs him, for the reasons stated above, plus this: The franchise's first baseman of the future, Chris Marrero, is still in Class AA Harrisburg.
Dunn has said he wants to be here. He also needs the Nats, if only because he's made it clear he doesn't want to be relegated to a designated hitter role for an American League team.
The Nats have seven days. Let's hope they soon make it a Dunn deal.