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Washington Nationals Moving On From Adam Dunn, Will Fans Follow?

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"The goal was to make a prudent baseball deal...we certainly weren't going to take a step backwards, or do a multi-player, a quantity deal for Adam Dunn. This is a prototypical clean up hitter in the lineup that hits 40 HR's and drives in a 100 runs, and is a great clubhouse presence, and that means a lot to us and our fanbase and if there was a deal to be made we certainly would have made it, we proved that with the difficult trade that we had to make with Matt Capps, but we saw value for value there, and we just didn't see the value in return with Adam Dunn." - Mike Rizzo July 31, 2010.

Assessing the impact of the Washington Nationals' loss of their big middle-of-the-order bat, Adam Dunn, ESPN.com's Buster Olney writes this morning that though the Nats will, "...get a couple of draft picks in compensation," for losing the 31-year-old first baseman/DH who hit 76 HR's and drove in 208 RBI's while posting a .264/.378/.533 slash line over the course of his 2-year/$20M dollar contract with the Nats, in the ESPN.com writer's opinion, "it's clear that they badly missed in taking advantage of his value, either with a contract extension or in trade." Dunn signed a 4-year/$56 million dollar deal with the Chicago White Sox yesterday. As far as anyone knows, the Nationals never budged from a 3-year ($35 million dollar?) contract that had been offered to Dunn three months back before he opted for free agency and the chance to see what his true value was on the market place. 

The White Sox, who were the one team most-often linked to Dunn at the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, didn't offer the value that the D.C. GM was looking for in July, most likely because at the time the career-National-Leaguer was reluctant to agree to move to the American League where he would in all likelihood be asked to make the transition into the DH phase of his career. The Sox now surrender their 2011 1st Round Draft pick, 23rd overall to the Nats, who also have the 6th pick in the draft as compensation for their 69-93 5th place finish in the NL East last season and they'll receive a sandwich or supplementary round pick between the first and second rounds in return for losing their "prototypical clean up hitter".

"Being a scouting guy and an ex-scout, that's very exciting to me," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling in a post-Trade Deadline discussion entitled, "Deals for Dunn and Harper?" in weighing the benefits of losing Dunn and receiving only Draft picks in return if they were unable to sign him after not trading him:

"Those can be impact players, as you've seen with (Stephen) Strasburg and (Ross) Detwiler and (Drew) Storen and up and down through the years. Those are impact players, and part of the strategy of not taking players you don't believe are equal value is, 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."

2011 Draft picks are not going to help the Washington Nationals in 2011, however, and the Nationals now head into the Winter Meetings, which start on Monday, with a huge hole in the middle of their lineup and at first base. Asked about the market for first baseman and big bats and what the Nationals were looking for this winter during an interview a few weeks back with Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy, the Nats' General Manager, who obviously hadn't officially lost Dunn at the time, explained the team's philosophy in such a way that that it led Mr.'s Duquette and Kennedy to say after the interview that it sounded like the GM was preparing fans for the loss of the nation's capital's Hondo-esque hero: 

Mike Rizzo: "Our philosophy here has been clear since I've taken over. We believe and I believe wholeheartedly that championship teams are built on pitching, defense, speed and athleticism. We certainly recognize that offense plays a big part in it also, but I think that teams that pitch, starting pitching is the ultra-prize nowadays, picking the ball up, playing the game the right way...because defense never goes into slumps and offenses do, so I think you have to be consistent, pitch well, pick the ball up, have speed..."

MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote this morning in an article entitled, "Nats to be on lookout for upgrades at Meetings", that Cliff Lee, Carl Pavano and Brandon Webb were on the Nats' radar, with first basemen Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche the top free agent targets at first as the Nationals seek to build upon "pitching, defense, speed and athleticism." ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote yesterday on Twitter (@jcrasnick) that he too had heard that Pena and LaRoche were, "...the Nats' two most likely targets at first base," while noting that, "General manager Mike Rizzo has a history of working productively with Scott Boras, Pena's guy. That never hurts."

I'm not sure, however, what the Nationals can do to assuage the anger that's boiled up in the nation's capital, as voiced by the face of the Nats' Franchise©, Ryan Zimmerman, who took a few phone calls from reporters yesterday to let the team know how he felt about their decision to allow Adam Dunn to walk. MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling, in an article entitled, "Ryan Zimmerman on Adam Dunn's departure", quoted the 26-year-old '05 1st Round pick, the Nats' first after the move from Montreal, expressing the same sort of frustration you're hearing from the fans: 

"'Knowing that we had one of the three top free agents on our team and we didn't want to resign him, it's frustrating for us as players,' Zimmerman said. 'We're not in the front office. We don't make the decisions, and we don't have to write the checks. But we're getting to the point on our team where we're supposed to wait it out, wait for the young guys, start doing some things and start making some moves. Not only are we ready for that, I think the fans are, as well. We've trusted the front office, and we still trust them. But we want to best possible team on the field.'"

After waiting over three decades for the return of baseball to the nation's capital, the Nats fans were asked to wait while the Nats rebuilt the barren organization they inherited from Montreal. They were asked to wait while they stocked up on pitching prospects. Asked to wait while they developed those pitchers. Asked to wait til it was the right time to start signing free agents to supplement the talent they'd added in the draft. And just a few weeks back, the D.C. GM admitted that with the dearth of talent (and particularly pitching) available via free agency or trade this winter, the fans might have to wait a little longer, as he told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore in an article entitled, "The Nationals' search for a top starter won't be easy":

"'We're at a point where if it's obtainable to get a front-of-the-rotation guy in [2011], then we're going to go every avenue to get that player,' Rizzo said. 'But if we have to wait until [2012] to obtain it, and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann become that 1 and 2 and supplement it in 2012, those are fluid questions that we have to answer as we see what's available and what the cost to obtain the player.'"

Just wait a little longer...As a Montreal Expos fan who's waited 30+ years for a team to even make a postseason appearance (the '81 strike season is hard to count, and I was only six anyway in the Expos' one playoff run), I understand what it's like for fans in the nation's capital who have waited for baseball's return and been asked to wait as the team they got has been built from the ground up. But it's not MLB's fault any more like it was in Montreal. It's not Jim Bowden's fault any more like the first few years in D.C. This is Mike Rizzo's team now. He's signed for the next five years. The fans in Washington, D.C. have been patient, it's time to start rewarding that patience. The Winter Meetings start Monday. I hope they have a Plan.