Tomorrow (11/23/10) is the next big day in the "What Will Happen To Adam Dunn" saga, when the Washington Nationals have to decide whether or not they'll offer the 31-year-old free agent first baseman salary arbitration, taking the risk that he'll accept and end up getting a significant raise to play in the nation's capital for one more season or reject arbitration and ensure that the Nats will get Draft pick compensation should the big middle-of-the-order bat decide to sign elsewhere this winter.
In an interview with MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling in the days after the July 31st Non-Waiver Deadline passed, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo explained that the worst-case-scenarion since the Nationals had failed to deal Dunn to the White Sox or whatever other teams may have been interested, would have them receive the two draft picks as compensation, which he said was, "part of the strategy of not taking players you don't believe are equal value," in a deal for Dunn:
"...you always have that opportunity in the background. The players that you're going to acquire have to be at least better than the two first-round draft picks you can get in 2011."
Since the Nats' General Manager didn't think any of the offers on the table were equal to or better than what the Nats can get in the 2011 Draft, he held on to Dunn and when they failed to reach an agreement on a contract within the 5-day window after the World Series ended in which they had exclusive rights to negotiate with the 10-year-vet, they're now competing with the rest of the league (or at least a few American League teams) that have interest in the big slugger. Assuming the Nats do offer Dunn arbitration, the free agent first baseman then has a week (til 11/30/10) to accept arbitration or reject it and see what he can get on the open market.
It's a given that the Nats offer Dunn arbitration, right? The last time he was in this position, however, a then-29-year-old Dunn was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, having been acquired the previous August in a deal that sent RHP Dallas Buck, IF/OF Wilkin Castillo (RHP) and Micah Owings. The D-Backs, even though they'd acquired Dunn with the idea that if they couldn't sign him they would get compensatory picks to replace the prospects they'd given up, decided not to offer Dunn arbtration, meaning the Nationals, who eventually signed him in February '09 were not required to part with any draft picks. Then-D-Backs' GM Josh Byrnes told MLB.com's Steve Gilbert at the time, in an article entitled, "D-backs offer arbitration to trio", that they couldn't, as Mr. Gilbert wrote, "...take the risk that Dunn would accept arbitration and better his $13 million he made last year." As Mr. Byrnes explained:
"'That was a premise of the deal,' Arizona GM Josh Byrnes said in regards to getting a pair of draft picks. 'The chances at that time were very good, but quite a few things have changed. I think it's fair to say it's maybe a little different situation than we anticipated. The poor economy has affected some things.'"
Will the Nats take the chance that Dunn accepts arbitration (which he never will)? They have to. The Nationals are in no position to let him walk and not get anything in return. (see: Guerrero, Vladimir). If Dunn accepts arbitration (he won't) and gets a raise to around $14-15M a year then the Nats have a chance to get things right the next time around at the 2011 Trade Deadline or they get the compensation picks and continue to build for the future. Or they don't offer arbitration and they set someone up the way Arizona did in the winter of '09 to add a big middle-of-the-order bat without losing anything. There's no way they don't offer arbitration, and there's no way Dunn accepts, just two more steps in the process before Nats fans find out what the future holds.