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June 15, 2007

Prospectus Today

Dunn Deals

by Joe Sheehan

In what is shaping up as a light midseason trade market, the big prize is Reds left fielder Adam Dunn. Dunn has been a lightning rod for criticism in Cincinnati, where his take'n'rake approach and Three True Outcomes output seen as a drag on the team's offense rather than a boost to it. Criticism of his defense and conditioning--justified to some extent--has taken on a piling-on feel. With the Reds unlikely to win anything in the next two seasons, trading Dunn is one step along the path to winning with Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs in 2009.

Of course, we were here just a year ago, with disastrous results. Wayne Krivsky blew up what was a fringe wild-card contender by overpaying badly for relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski. Sending away Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez killed the team's strength, its offense, while providing absolutely no gains anywhere else. To his discredit, Krivsky is again largely focused on adding a reliever, in particularly a closer, in a Dunn deal. For a team that may not win 120 games between now and Opening Day 2009, it's a ridiculous approach. A closer, even a very good one, isn't going to make a difference to this team, and it's a role that can be filled accidentally when the Reds are ready to contend. Krivsky needs to stop worrying about filling a low-value roster role and focus on getting the most talent, at any position, he can get.

Dunn's OBP and power would help just about any team, even with his defensive deficiencies. Note that although he's signed through 2008, a trade voids next year and turns him into a free agent at the end of the season, making him a rent-a-player. That significantly affects his trade value. Looking around the league, I found about 12 teams who have need, who are in position to make a midseason deal, and who could put together a reasonable package. Of those, three seem like excellent fits, while a couple of others make some sense.

The seven teams I won't get that deeply into include:

  • Baltimore Orioles: This made more sense before they lost 10 of 12. They're awful on the corners, 11th in runs scored and 11th in OBP. They could have been a sleeper fit; now, they'll be looking to trade away players such as Aubrey Huff.
  • Cleveland Indians: For the second straight season, production on the corners is their bugaboo. Dunn would address the problem that David Dellucci and Trot Nixon haven't. Or they could just call up Shin-Soo Choo and get 80% of the production for none of the cost. General manager Mark Shapiro is more likely to add a pitcher than a hitter.
  • Atlanta Braves: Take this with a grain of salt, but the Braves are in on Dunn, and might have piqued Krivsky's interest, because they have young pitching and middle infield talent down on the farm that they could move. John Schuerholz used to make big in-season deals all the time, but it's been a while since he's made a major move in the summertime. Dunn might float between first base and left field as a Brave, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Matt Diaz sharing time around him.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: While he'd be an upgrade on Andre Ethier or Nomar Garciaparra, the twin problems of realpolitik and defense raise their ugly heads. A Dunn/Juan Pierre/Luis Gonzalez outfield is untenable, and playing Dunn at first base would necessitate benching the popular though unproductive Garciaparra in the first year of a three-year contract. The Dodgers have prospects to move, and Ned Colletti isn't shy about doing so, but I don't see the fit.
  • Chicago White Sox: They desperately need offense and they've been playing Triple-A guys in the outfield corners. Dunn isn't really the kind of player either Ozzie Guillen or Kenny Williams typically target, although picking up Jim Thome has worked out well. Their system isn't great, and you could argue that they shouldn't even be playing for 2007 at this point.
  • Milwaukee Brewers: They never walk, and that flaw has seen their OBP and runs ranks slip steadily since their hot start. At that, though, the only place Dunn could play for them is left field, and there's little chance that they would move Geoff Jenkins aside for a better version of Geoff Jenkins.
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Their lot is similar to the Brewers', in that they could use a bat like Dunn's, but need him at positions he's not suited for playing. Their system is fairly shallow, as well; they'd have a hard time matching the offers Krivsky will field from deeper teams.

That leaves five teams as the top suitors for Big Red. In reverse order:

  • Oakland Athletics: The A's are 13th in the AL in runs, 10th in EqA, and 13th in SLG. Another low-batting average guy isn't the best fit for this offense-they could really use a .320/.370/.470 hitter in the middle of their lineup-but Dunn's power would help them given how little they're getting from DH and left field. No team appreciates a hitter of Dunn's caliber like the A's, who recently rescued the failed-prospect version of Dunn, Jack Cust, from oblivion.

    Look more closely, though, and while the poetry of a Billy Beane/Adam Dunn marriage remains, the details don't ring true. Asking Dunn to play left field in the Coliseum is probably a bad idea, especially alongside Nick Swisher. They could use him at DH, catch Mike Piazza after he returns, and bench Jason Kendall, but that would also mean a defensive hit. The A's have gotten a lot of mileage out of strong defenses the past few seasons, and their low-strikeout rotation needs to be protected. Beane knows better than anyone that he can replicate most of Dunn's production with less-expensive players who he can control for longer.

    The only way this makes sense for the A's is if they decide to catch Mike Piazza five days a week. The upgrade from Kendall to Dunn would make a deal worthwhile. Unless that unlikely plan is implemented, there's no deal here.

  • San Diego Padres: Terrmel Sledge hasn't been the answer in left field for the Padres, who actually have a pretty good offense that looks worse than it really is because of their home park. Some of the problems Dunn creates for the A's would be in play here, including putting a poor defender in a very difficult home outfield. Three True Outcome hitters like Dunn may have less value in parks where the third outcome is hard to come by, while the relative importance of hits, and advancing on hits, is increased. Like the A's, though, the Padres have a real need for an additional power hitter.

    The Padres have prospects to trade, although they're a bit deeper in hitters than pitchers; Kyle Blanks and Matt Antonelli come to mind, but Chase Headley is unavailable. Krivsky is likely to be focused on pitching in any deal. Kevin Towers is generally aggressive when it comes to making deals, and he's certainly aware that his team has come up short at the plate in consecutive Division Series. Dunn would make this a well-above-average offense.

So, that really leaves these next three teams as by far the best fits for Dunn, for any number of reasons:

  • New York Yankees: Yankee first basemen, 2007: Doug Mientkiewicz (DL), Josh Phelps, Miguel Cairo, Jason Giambi (DL). The current solution of playing Cairo at first base just about every day is baseball malpractice, and it will continue until Brian Cashman gives Joe Torre a better option. As good as this offense is supposed to be, remember that it's also starting Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, neither of whom has a .330 OBP this year. Dunn would be a huge upgrade.

    Last year, the Yankees managed to get Bobby Abreu for a collection of players they would never miss. Could they make a similar deal in 2007? Obviously, Philip Hughes is untouchable, but would one of the '06 draftees, Ian Kennedy or Joba Chamberlain, be made available, along with Tyler Clippard? The Yankees don't want to part with Jose Tabata, which may not hurt when matching up with the Reds, who are already loaded with outfield prospects. The Abreu steal aside, Brian Cashman hasn't been looking for quick fixes of late, preferring to add to the system. His willingness to be flexible about that plan is the key to acquiring Dunn. As lousy as May was for the Yankees, they open play today 7 games behind the Red Sox. This is a race again.

  • Los Angeles Angels: Bill Stoneman has seen a number of prospects come through the system, fail, and subsequently lose all of their value, but he's never leveraged any of their reputations to help the major-league squad. Is this the year he does so, with the Angels in first place in a winnable division, two DHs with sub-.300 OBPs, and another crop of prospects cresting?

    Take Brandon Wood and Nick Adenhart off the table. No team can throw bulk at the Reds the way the Angels can, with Joe Saunders and Chris Bootcheck and Dustin Moseley (an ex-Reds prospect himself). They have a high-upside arm in Felipe Arredondo and a converted infielder such as Sean Rodriguez (Ed. Note: Rodriguez has not been converted; I overreacted to seeing he played center field once. My apologies.--JSS); that might get it done. It's probably too much to expect Stoneman to cash in the suddenly unimpressive Ervin Santana or the high-upside Hanley Statia, but he probably doesn't have to in this deal.

    The Angels would normally be the team least likely to trade for any given player, but in this case, they're only the second-least likely. That's because the best fit for Adam Dunn is the team run by Krivsky's former boss, up with the...

  • Minnesota Twins: Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Twins have a strong pitching staff and they play good defense, but their offense isn't quite up to par. They could use a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter, even one who doesn't play defense, because their DH slot is open.

    Adam Dunn may not be the type of player the Twins usually look for, but a similar player became a hero-and the American League MVP-a year ago. If the Twins were willing to start the year with Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker and Glen Perkins in the minors, then it stands to reason that they can use one or two of those guys to bring Dunn north. Remembering that Garza recently angered the organization with his comments, one of those guys, along with a shortstop suspect such as Trevor Plouffe or a closer suspect like Eduardo Morlan might get it done. The Reds might even buy in to the idea that Denard Span is a baseball player.

    The Twins' inability to draft and develop hitters since Joe Mauer was selected is a problem here, as they don't have much in the way of attractive position-player prospects. The sheer quantity of pitchers, though, makes them a factor. The Reds have had a perceived lack of pitching since the day Krivsky took the job, and always remember Joe Sheehan's GM Theory: All GMs, no matter what their team actually needs, think they need pitching.

Of those last three, both the Twins and Angels have the two GMs least likely to make a big move during the season, no matter how good the fit, so I like the Yankees' chances if they get involved. As is, Adam Dunn is going somewhere, and that somewhere is probably a contending team in the American League. As with all in-season pickups, the sooner the better for the team trading for the player, because they have to maximize the investment they'll make. Dunn is a legitimate three- or four-win player across a half-season, and each of the five teams above has a replacement-level player they can excise from their lineup upon Dunn's arrival. Normally, a midseason pickup is overrated; in this case, it truly could be the difference between playing 162 games and playing many more.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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