- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

The Washington Nationals introduced their slugger to the world Thursday afternoon. Now they just need to figure out where to play him.

Announcing the signing of Adam Dunn during a televised news conference at Nationals Park, the team’s key officials praised Dunn as the power presence they have lacked for all but one year since they came to the District but left unanswered the question of where Dunn will start.

The former All-Star, who signed a two-year, $20 million contract that will pay him $8 million this season and $12 million in 2010, now creates a logjam at either first base or the outfield, where jobs that would have been competitive now become downright heated.

“Adam plays first, and he plays left field,” manager Manny Acta said. “Don’t think that it hasn’t come to our thoughts about what a great lineup it could be, having two guys that are close to .400 on-base percentage, left-handed bats with pop in the lineup [in [JUMP]Dunn and first baseman Nick Johnson]. It’s still open. At the end of camp, we’re just going to do what’s best for the Nationals to win.”

With everyone from principal owner Mark Lerner to Acta praising the signing, the Nationals made it clear the signing of Dunn, in their opinion, vindicated an offseason that had been marked mostly by their unsuccessful efforts to land first baseman Mark Teixeira.

“For the big slugger that we needed, there were only two guys there that would satisfy our need as a free agent,” team president Stan Kasten said. “We went after both of them, and we got one of them.”

The proceedings were equal parts ceremony and roast, with the team holding the start of the news conference for television and Lerner saying Dunn could be the best power hitter in the District since “my childhood hero, Frank Howard.” General manager Jim Bowden, who drafted Dunn in 1998 while he was with the Cincinnati Reds, presented Dunn’s wife, Rachel, with roses, then took repeated digs at the slugger’s high strikeout totals.

The general manager had reason to be in a good mood; just two days before the start of spring training, he filled what the Nationals had deemed their biggest need all offseason. Dunn has hit at least 40 home runs each of the last five seasons. Other than Alfonso Soriano’s 46 homers in 2006, no Nationals player has hit more than 24 in a season.

Washington set its sights on the slugger soon after missing out on Teixeira in December. But negotiations didn’t reach the final stages until Monday night, with Dunn’s hopes of a longer contract slipping away in a tepid free agent market. Word of the two-year contract first became public Wednesday.

“I screamed over the phone when I heard it,” Acta said. “I knew that we never stopped trying to get him. I was just afraid he would be gone. I got a call from [team travel director] Rob McDonald. He said, ‘We got Dunn, and we need you to fly up to D.C.’ I didn’t even say, ‘How are you doing?’ I just screamed on the phone. We really wanted this guy bad.”

Now Dunn, who received numerous phone calls from close friend and former teammate Austin Kearns during the offseason, could be one of the factors that puts the outfielder on the bench.

If the Nationals decide to keep Johnson at first base, Dunn’s most likely position is left field, which likely would leave Kearns, Elijah Dukes and Josh Willingham (whom the team acquired in a November trade with the Marlins) fighting for the right-field job.

It’s also possible Kearns or Johnson could wind up departing in a trade, especially if either performs well enough during spring training to convince potential suitors he is over the injuries that plagued him much of last year.

Dunn isn’t highly regarded as a defender but said he wanted to play in the National League so he could play the field. Adding he is fully recovered from a knee injury that has slowed him the last five years, he said the Nationals emerged over time as the best of his options in the NL.

“I can sit here with a straight face and say this is where I want to be,” Dunn said.

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