The popular or accepted narrative, based largely upon the reporting of Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell, has it that a difference of opinion existed in the Washington Nationals' Front Office between the then-team President Stan Kasten and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo about what to do with now-former Nats' first baseman Adam Dunn. Mr. Kasten, as Mr. Boswell wrote in an October 7th chat, believed it was "crazy" not to re-sign the just-turned-31 Dunn, while Mr. Rizzo preferred other (more athletic) options at first.
The disagreement, which led to the Nats not making a deadline deal this past July that would have (reportedly) brought a pitcher (maybe Edwin Jackson) to Washington, eventually led to Dunn leaving the nation's capital for the South Side of Chicago when the Nats either misjudged his desire to test the free agent market or simply allowed him to walk. A contract offer (rumored to be around three-years and $40-42M) was reportedly extended to Dunn by the Nats, but Dunn left it on the table and eventually signed a four-year/$56M dollar deal with the White Sox.
The Nationals then expressed interest in Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche as possible replacements for the modern-era Frank Howard, before finally signing LaRoche to a two-year/$16M dollar deal after Pena signed with the Chicago Cubs and Lee agreed on a deal with Baltimore Orioles.
Dunn's departure from D.C. came up again this weekend in an article by SI.com's Jon Heyman entitled, "Dunn embraces new role as DH", in which Mr. Heyman wrote that Dunn, who's happy to be in Chicago, would have preferred to remain in the National League, but just as he'd discovered before signing with Washington in the winter of 2009, the market for the 40 HR/100 RBI threat existed solely in the American League.
Dunn wanted to continue to play the field, but "the choice was basically made for him," Mr. Heyman wrote, since Washington was the only potential NL destination and, "The Nationals made him a three-year offer for $36 million, or just enough to ensure he'd go elsewhere. It didn't take a financial genius to realize the American League is where he belonged."
Dunn, who'd hit 40+ HR's in five straight seasons before signing in D.C., hit 38 in each year of his two-year deal with Washington, driving in over 100 RBI's each year as well, as he had for four of the previous five seasons each of which he played with the Cincinatti Reds, and he'd shown improvement at first after making the move from the outfield to full-time first baseman in 2010. Dunn hadn't changed, Mr. Heyman wrote this weekend:
"What changed in Washington was the leadership. Stan Kasten was Nats president when the offer to Dunn was made, and GM Mike Rizzo is now in charge. Rizzo is placing a greater emphasis on defense, and he never upped the offer to Dunn to anything serious, signaling to Dunn that the AL was a better spot for him. Rizzo eventually signed the better-fielding Adam LaRoche to replace him at first base."
Dunn's at Spring Training in Arizona with Chicago now. LaRoche is Viera, Florida with the Nats, but he's yet to play the field. Asked this winter if he was worried about having to replace Dunn's consistent production in the lineup, the Nats' General Manager told reporters that in Dunn and LaRoche, "I think you're talking about two of the most consistent players that there are,":
"You can look at their numbers consistently and you can more or less draw a conclusion of what [LaRoche] is going to bring offensively to the table. Defensively, he's going to bring run prevention and I think that's going to help balance our club much more. I think we're going to score runs, but we're going to score runs maybe in a different manner than we did last year. We've got the personnel now to go first to third, second to home, scoring from first base and manufacturing some runs where I don't think we did last year."
LaRoche, who's appeared in the Nats' lineup solely only as a DH at this point, is expected to take the field for the first time either today or tomorrow after having experienced shoulder stiffness that's kept him playing first base. The Nats and the player don't seem too concerned, though Skipper Jim Riggleman did tell the Washington Post's Dave Sheinin, in a Nationals Journal post this weekend entitled, "LaRoche still day-to-day with mild shoulder soreness", that, "Most guys do experience a little soreness and work through it. But this is totally new for him, so we're being a little precautionary."
Dunn might well hit his 38-40/100 again, but Rizzo's gambling that the additions of Jayson Werth and LaRoche will help to give the Nationals a more balanced lineup than they've had while losing 90-100 games in each of the last three seasons. At least one important player is on board with the plan. "They're doing the right thing, kind of starting from the ground up, and giving us a good team that has a lot of depth not just a few guys," as the Nats' face of the franchise and friend of Dunn Ryan Zimmerman said last week in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in DC's The Sports Junkies. It might take two years or more, to see if the new-look Nats can continue to grow and see how Dunn's production falls off as he gets older, only then will we be able to say one way or another if Rizzo's gamble payed off.