Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn has his eyes on a contract extension with the Nationals.
Seriously, how many other players in baseball could do what Dunn did tonight in the Nats' 7-6 win over the Padres? Three home runs. Two of them opposite-field shots. The other a solo blast off a tough left-handed reliever.
That's three homers, five RBI and about 1,200 feet of home runs in less than three hours.
"That's what he can do," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He's one of, if not the best power guys in the game the last five, six years. It's good to have him on your team."
So why does Dunn's name keep cropping up in trade rumors? And why haven't the Nationals quashed any talk of a deal by locking him up right now to a contract extension?
Because, even though Dunn wants to stay and the Nats want to keep him, it's not as simple as it sounds. The problem is that no one can seem to decide just how much Dunn is worth.
On the one hand, you're looking at a guy who has established himself as a guaranteed 40-homer, 100-RBI, 110-walk player every season. He's surpassed or come awfully close to those numbers each of the last six years.
On the other hand, you're looking at a one-dimensional player whose career batting average is only .251 and profiles best as a DH in the American League but remains adamant about playing the field for the foreseeable future.
We've seen Jim Riggleman replace his cleanup man with Adam Kennedy for defensive purposes countless times in late innings with the Nationals winning. And we saw it again tonight, with Kennedy making a couple of impressive plays to record the game's final two outs, including a heads-up move to force out Adrian Gonzalez at second base after knocking down a smoked line drive over his head.
"Good managing. I don't think Adam could have made those plays," Kennedy said sarcastically.
Then there's the fact Dunn has never played for a winning team before. Whether he deserves any blame for that or not, he has zero track record in a pennant race or postseason series as evidence of his ability to come up big in the biggest moments.
So how much is that player worth?
There's an obvious comparison to be made to Ryan Howard, who has similar career numbers (though a tick higher in every offensive category except for on-base percentage) and actually is only 10 days younger than Dunn. The Phillies rewarded Howard in April with a five-year, $125 million extension, and in doing so established a point of reference for the Dunn camp.
Can Dunn reasonably expect a contract that pays him $25 million a year? No way. His numbers, while impressive, are a notch below Howard's and he certainly doesn't have the Philadelphia first baseman's postseason pedigree.
But how much less does Dunn (who is making $12 million this season) deserve? $20 million a year? $15 million a year? And how many years are you willing to commit to the 30-year-old?
This is the debate that's playing out inside the heads of Mike Rizzo, Stan Kasten and Mark Lerner. At this point, all they know is they want to keep Dunn in a Nationals uniform. They just don't know how much is reasonable to spend to make that happen.
Which then leads to all the trade speculation. If the Nats ultimately aren't willing to match what Dunn is seeking, wouldn't they be better off trading him now to a contender who might be willing to part with a couple of bright prospects in exchange for two months of his services?
If the guys inside the clubhouse have any say in the matter, Dunn (and Josh Willingham, for that matter) won't be playing anywhere else this year or next.
"We understand; people have to do their job," Zimmerman said. "But personally, I think if you get rid of a couple of those guys, we'll maybe take a step backward instead of a step forward.
"I don't think we're that far away. It's really hard to find a 3-4-5 that can do what we've done the last few years. We enjoy playing together. We kind of push each other. It's a good group we have. It would be bad if we broke it up, I think."
Dunn has been dealing with these July trade rumors for years, and he despises them. That's why he wanted to sign an extension before Opening Day. He tries not to think about it.
"All that stuff's out of our control," he said. "We can't go out there thinking if we don't play good, we're going to be traded. We can't do anything about that as players. So I can't worry about that."
Dunn also knows he could end all this talk himself by agreeing to whatever the Nationals have offered at this point. But he's a prideful guy, he knows he settled for a below-value deal two years ago when he signed with the Nationals for the bargain-basement price of $20 million and he wants to feel like he's being compensated at a level befitting one of the sport's best power hitters.
So, what's the compromise number? Is it three years and $50 million? Is it four years and $60 million? Is it five years and $65 million?
"Mark and Stan are very smart guys," Zimmerman said. "They've done a great job here, and we trust they'll do the right thing. I think it'll end up how we want it to."
Until then, all Nationals fans can do is appreciate the one-man show Dunn put on tonight and hope he gets the opportunity to take this stage many more times in the future.