The Nationals have reportedly agreed to a two-year, $20 million contract with free agent slugger Adam Dunn. The 29-year-old has smashed 40 or more homers in each of the past five seasons and knocked in 100 or more runs four times during that stretch, and though he hits for low averages and annually ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts, he is the proud owner of an impressive .381 career on-base percentage. But while Dunn brings power to a Nats lineup that sorely lacks it, his signing is an ill-advised, shortsighted move.
There is no doubt that Dunn’s signing will temporarily appease a fan base that is still sore about Maryland native Mark Teixeira’s decision to spurn the Nats and accept essentially the same offer from the Yankees. However, Dunn’s addition won’t turn a very flawed Nats squad into instant contenders, and there’s no point in paying $10 million a season to a player who’ll be launching his homers for what will likely be, at best, a 70-win team. When it appeared Dunn was seeking four years and $56 million, I wrote that he’d be either on his next contract or his next team if he got a deal like that from the Nats (see: Nats need patience, not Adam Dunn). When viewed from that perspective, signing him for two years makes even less sense.
The Nats could learn a lot from the Rays’ example. While other teams duked it out for high priced free agents the past several offseasons, the Rays focused on the draft and player development. They stockpiled young talent and, after years of incremental progress, they conquered arguably baseball’s toughest division and reached the World Series last season with an inexpensive, home-grown roster and put themselves in position to be successful for years to come. While it’s true that the Rays needed several years of high draft picks to get over the hump, the fact that they attempted high-priced quick fixes (Jose Canseco, Greg Vaughn, Vinny Castilla) in their formative years contributed to their prolonged futility.
I’m not trying to rain on Nats’ fans parade, and I’ll be cheering just as loudly as everyone else the first time Dunn blasts a 400-foot shot into the seats in right. But the fact remains that the Nats should be rebuilding, not spending $20 million on a guy who will probably be gone long before the Nats experience any kind of real success. Signing Teixeira would have been different; yes, he was far more expensive, but he would have been here for at least eight years and Jim Bowden & Co. would have had plenty of time to build a team around him. This signing might fill seats in April, but they’ll be empty by the end of the summer if the Nats sputter once again. The money would be better spent on the draft and top amateur talent, especially considering that the Nats have the Nos. 1 and 10 picks in June and the consensus top pick, San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg, is likely to command a record-breaking deal.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.