April 26, 2010

What Have the Phillies Dunn?

In case you somehow missed the news, Philadelphia today inked their star first baseman to a 20-year, 50 bajillion dollar contract extension. (Okay, it was 5 years, $125M, as though that makes it better.) It's rare to see a deal immediately and universally deplored, but that appears to be happening here. I'm sure someone, somewhere is lauding this as a great deal for the Phils, but I sure haven't seen it yet.

Now, as a Nats fan I'm perfectly content to see the Phillies misallocate resources on an epic scale. Perhaps Philly GM Reuben Amaro, Jr. thinks he's undergone some sort of Freaky Friday body exchange with Brian Cashman, or maybe he figures he'll be out of the picture long before Ryan Howard goes full-Albert Belle on this contract. That's fine. Philadelphia certainly has the money now, and if this is how their front office chooses to spend it, bully. But here's the problem with teams throwing that kind of money around; the repercussions impact everyone.

Craig Calcaterra has a pretty good run-down of the immediate winners and losers in Howard's new deal. Among the winners are Ryan himself, and the free agent first base class of 2011, including Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. Not mentioned by Calcaterra but slated to be a free agent first baseman this offseason? Our own Adam Dunn.

Howard's new contract extension complicates things for the Nats on a couple of fronts. One, it raises the market rate for defensively-challenged slugging first basemen on the wrong side of 30. This will make it more expensive to retain Adam, if the team is inclined to go that route. I'm not suggesting that Dunn will get, or even ask for, $25M/year, but it's not unreasonable to think that the price range for an extension may have gone up from $12-15M annually to $15-18M.

Second, and probably more important, if the Nats let Dunn walk, the cost of replacing him has also gone up. Even leaving aside Pujols, Fielder and Gonzalez, all of whom will likely command salaries equivalent to or greater than Howard's deal, a rising tide lifts all boats. Second-tier first basemen like Carlos Pena will have a new benchmark, and if Adam Dunn goes, the Nats are going to have a big void to fill.

Unless Chris Marrero shows something in AA Harrisburg pretty soon, the farm system's cupboard at 1B is more than bare. It's not just Dunn's offensive numbers that will have to be replaced (no easy task), it's the man himself. For better or worse he is the Nats most experienced first baseman. The idea of inserting Josh Whitesell or Chris Duncan as a stopgap can hardly be encouraging for a Nats franchise angling for a return to respectability over the next few seasons.

So feel free to chuckle at the Phillies today, but reserve a few tears to weep at what their profligacy may well mean for the future of your team.


bdrube said...

I hate to say it, but as much as I enjoyed being at the stadium on Friday for Dunn's two big bombs, I wouldn't resign him for $12-15, let alone $15-18. His extended slump is evidence to me that he is likely already on the downslope of his career.

The other options are not enticing, but blowing a huge hole in the budget to resign Dunn is the wrong way to go.

Nate said...

Reasonable people can and do disagree on Dunn's value. It's also true that Adam's value to the Nats is probably higher than his value in the abstract. He's a patient, lefty slugger to hit between our only two other (righty) power threats.

Considering he's making $12M this season, I don't think something in the neighborhood of a 3 yr/$36-45M extension would "blow a hole" in the budget. Or at least it shouldn't.

nationals anthems said...

I believe Rizzo has a reasonable replacement player currently patrolling left field, should he let Dunn go. Josh Willingham at first base, batting fifth behind Zimmerman, would suit me fine, and Rizzo could use the Dunn dollars for Bryce Harper and a second baseman.