Get It Dunn

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The date is August 10th, 2004, and the Dodgers’ Jose Lima finishes his warmup tosses prior to the bottom of the fourth in Cincinatti’s Great American Ballpark. Adam Dunn steps to the plate to leadoff the inning, having popped out to second to end a nine pitch battle in his first at-bat. The first pitch is a called strike, and Dunn fouls off the second for a quick 0-2 count. Lima Time tries to get Dunn flailing at something off the plate for the K, but The Big Donkey takes three straight balls to the work the count back full. Dunn fouls off the sixth pitch of the at-bat, then the seventh.

It’s just his second trip to the plate in the game, but Dunn has already coaxed sixteen pitches out of Lima; the rest of the Reds have seen just thirty pitches combined in their eleven plate appearances. Lima delivers the eighth pitch of the at-bat and Dunn connects, sending the ball deep to centerfield. It’s not a question of if he hit it out, but by how much. The ball clears the bleachers and takes a bounce off Mehring Way beyond the stadium walls. It lands on a piece of driftwood in the Ohio River, which eventually comes to a rest in nearby Newport, Kentucky.

The official measure on the homer is a monstrous 535 feet, and because of the way the Ohio-Kentucky border was defined by the low water mark of the river back in 1793, it is also believed to be the first (and only) homerun in Major League history to cross a state line in flight. Now that is freaking cool.

The Diamondbacks, who have already laid off thirty one front office employees this offseason, declined to offer Dunn arbitration before Monday’s line, meaning that the Type-A free agent will not cost a draft pick to sign. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Everything about Adam Dunn is big. He’s physically huge (listed a 6’6″, 275 lbs, and I’m willing to bet it’s muscle, not fat) and was a tremendous football prospect in high school, signing on to play quarterback at Texas before deciding to focus on baseball full time. He’s got tremendous power, racks up huge walks totals and even huger strikeout totals. Since his first full season in 2002 only three players have hit more homers (A-Rod, Pujols, Thome) and no one has drawn more walks (non-Barry division). At the same time, however, he’s also struck out nearly two hundred times more than any other player in the game. The man is not without his faults, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

Traditionalists point to his low batting averages (.246 career BA) and aforementioned strikeout totals as evidence of him being an unproductive player, but those of us unafraid of funny acronyms and spreadsheets point to his sky high wOBA (.383 career), EqA (.301) and VORP (37.4) and say “hey, this dude is a really good player.” He’s Joe Morgan’s dream player because he’s extremely consistent, smacking 40 homers on the nose in each of the last four seasons, and posting OBP’s of .388, .387, .386 and .386 in four of the last five years. Stick him in the Yankee lineup with the short porch in right, and those numbers might jump to 50 & .410. Dunn has seen 4.24 P/PA in his career, more than Jason Giambi (4.12) and just barely less than Bobby Abreu (4.27), and he’s also nice and clutchy (2.81 avg WPA over the last five years).

He sucks defensively out in left field, posting revised zone ratings of .899, .826 and .878 over the last three seasons. Dunn has some experience at first, but he’s bad there as well and hurts the team less by hiding out in a corner outfield spot. The Yanks have the option of starting Johnny Damon in centerfield, then sliding him over to left late in the game for defense with Melky/Gardner taking over up the middle. Dunn’s a better athlete than you may think, but his arm will make you wonder how he was ever recruited to play QB for the Longhorns.

Dunn’s name hasn’t even been whispered this offseason, with Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez rightfully hogging the position player headlines. Given the holes in the lineup created by the departures of Giambi and Abreu, as well as the complete lack of outfielders under contract beyond 2009, it would behoove the Yanks to look into bringing The Big Donkey aboard. His skill set is undervalued, and while he’ll still command an eight-figure annual salary (he made $13M last year), he’s a significantly cheaper but only marginally inferior option to Teixeira. Obviously short term contracts are ideal, but a three year deal for the now 29 yr old Dunn wouldn’t be absurd. PECOTA has a favorable 50 percentile projection, so even a guaranteed fourth year wouldn’t be the end of the world. And think, he won’t even cost a draft pick!

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Baseball isn’t so recession-proof after all.

Until about an hour ago, no one really knew how the American economic slump would impact baseball. Now that the arbitration decisions are in, it’s clear that teams are being far more cautious than usual and that the free agent market for lesser players may not be as robust as those free agents had hoped.

To me, three players and their teams’ respective decisions highlight this economic issue. Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn were not offered arbitration by, respectively, the Yankees, Phillies and Diamondbacks. In all three cases, the teams are not actively looking to retain their former players, and in any other year, these three players would have been offered arbitration. This year, though, the specter of an arbitration acceptance looms large.

Leaving aside Bobby Abreu for now — because we’ll get to him later today — the most glaring example is Pat Burrell. I don’t think the Phillies expect to re-sign Burrell, and entering the off-season, Burrell didn’t expect to re-sign with the Phillies. As the economy has tanked, though, mid-30s outfielders who aren’t Manny Ramirez must not be in high demand.

If the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Yankees all declined to offer arbitration to these players, the teams’ GMs must feel that there is a better-than-usual chance these players would accept binding arbitration. Either the market for corner outfielders isn’t there or it is not as strong as these players would hope. After all, it would behoove these three, expecting large contracts, to ride out the economic tide for one more year while playing at a salary equal to or exceeding their 2008 total.

So Brian Cashman said no. Ruben Amaro, Jr. said no. Josh Byrnes said no. It makes sense on the one hand, and it doesn’t on the other.

Of course, now, these three players are slightly more attractive targets and more so Dunn than the other two. Teams who sign them won’t have to surrender money and draft picks, and the three of them are now at the whim of market forces. Those forces, by the way, as the Cubs’ decision not to offer arbitration to Kerry Wood shows, don’t figure to be too strong. Teams just can’t run the risk of saddling themselves with last year’s merchandise and last year’s price in this year’s economy.

In the end, this won’t impact the deals that Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez get. Those guys have tens of millions of reasons to feel good, and the players at the top will get their deals. But everyone below them must looking at the arbitration carnage tonight in fear. Now we know, at least, why the Hot Stove has been so cool lately.

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  • Manny happy returns

    As I expected, the Yanks’ decision to decline arbitration has fired up the Manny-to-the-Bronx rumors with Jon Heyman leading the charge. I’ll have more on this tomorrow — law-school work permitting — when I get around to delving into the Abreu decision, but I’m not at all surprised to see Heyman’s pursuing this line of reasoning right now. · (97) ·

As Yankee fans grapple with the arbitration decision, another list of sorts hit the wire today as the voters received their Hall of Fame ballots. Nothing, as we’ve seen, boils the blood quite like a good Hall of Fame discussion.

Now, this year’s ballots are notable for a few reasons. First, it’s the smallest ballot in recent history with just 23 names on it. Additionally, of those listed, I believe that only Rickey Henderson should be elected. Mostly, the folks on the ballot are retreads. They’ve all been denied entry in the past but due to the Hall of Fame’s rules, they get a second, third or even tenth crack at the Hall.

Finally, this year is significant because of the presence of Jim Rice. In New England, most people think that Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Elsewhere, most baseball fans don’t seem him as deserving. The arguments are out there for all to read. This is Rice’s last year of eligibility, and his showing last year — 72.2 percent — fell just 2.8 percentage points short of election.

My question to those who vote for Rice though is this: What has he done in the 14 years that he’s been on the ballot that earns him a spot in Cooperstown this year that he hadn’t accomplished when he retired? I’m almost tempted to say that eligiblity isn’t restrictive enough. If Rice wasn’t a Hall of Famer for the last 14 seasons, he shouldn’t be one this year just because no one else outside of Rickey is good enough to make the Hall.

Anyway, for our open thread tonight, let’s run the ballot. The names of those are below. Who would you pick for the Hall of Fame? I’d go with Rickey Henderson and only Rickey Henderson.

2009 Hall of Fame Ballot: Harold Baines, Jay Bell, Bert Blyleven, David Cone, Andre Dawson, Ron Gant, Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Jesse Orosco, Dave Parker, Dan Plesac, Tim Raines, Jim Rice, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Greg Vaughn, Mo Vaughn, Matt Williams

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To anyone. Seriously. They won’t be getting any compensation draft picks for Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, and/or Pudge Rodriguez. PeteAbe says it came down to economics. The Yanks can not loose the comp picks they received for not signing Gerrit Cole and Scott Bittle, so at worst they’ll have two of the top 76 picks after signing some free agents.

Update by Joe: Having paid close attention to the Hot Stove, I’ve noticed a lack of mentions for Bobby Abreu. When I did hear his name, it appeared that most teams preferred Raul Ibanez to him. So the Yankees fears that he’d accept arbitration seem reasonable. They clearly do not want him on the roster next year at $16 million, and by offering him arbitration they’d give him a clear window. Same with Pettitte. They don’t want to pay him $16 million next year. That’s what this all comes down to.

Criticize as you will.

Update again: Bryan Hoch has the transcription of Cashman’s explanation:

“We certainly have been going through this process for quite some time. First and foremost, unlike in past years, we’re not in a position not to be able to sign these players as we move forward. That’s the most important thing. In the past and in the previous basic agreements, you were in a position that if you didn’t offer, you lose the ability to sign.

“Today’s date really has everything to do with the compensation attached to various players, if they had some. Bobby was a Type A and Andy was a Type A, so the determination that we made today was to make sure that we control what amount we’d be spending, at least in the event that we’re fortunate enough to bring those players back.

“We did not want to put ourselves in the position of having that determined by a third party without knowing what that figure would be. The arbitration time period falls in early February, so obviously as we attempt to put this team together, in Andy’s case and in Bobby’s case, they made $16 million a year. It’s been tough in the past to try and deviate from previous years’ earnings in an arbitration setting.

“We just wanted to control the cost that we would allocate for every position on the club by offering them arbitration, even though we wanted Draft picks if we lost anybody. By offering arbitration, we would lose our ability to at least determine a final cost. By doing so, we chose to go a different direction, not offer the arbitration, and we’ll still stay engaged with the entire free agent market including those two players.”

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Allow me to take time out of this busy, busy Hot Stove Day — something happened! Mike Hampton signed with the Astros! — to thank everyone who stopped by RAB last month. While the news, outside of a Nick Swisher trade, was slow, we had more unique visitors and more page views than any other month in this site’s 22-month history. We had over 281,000 visitors and 444,000 page views, and we just want to thank everyone for stopping by and contributing every day.

Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll have some announcements about some upcoming plans and a new t-shirt design as well as Hot Stove coverage as it happens when it happens. Don’t go away. And as always, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

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RAB Live Chat

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  • Hughes ready for ’09

    Phil Hughes had a terribly disappointing 2008. There’s really no way around that fact. The subject of numerous true and untrue Johan Santana rumors, the Yanks expected big things out of the 22-year-old in 2008, but injuries derailed his season. He flashed some signs of life at the end of the year and had a generally stellar showing in the Arizona Fall League. To that end, Hughes is ready for 2009, as he told Mark Feinsand today. We lose sight of the fact that Hughes is still young, but there is no reason he won’t be a good Major League starter. While critics may say, “Fool me twice” and warn about over-hyping Hughes again, I’m expected big things from the right-hander next year. · (43) ·