When Pudge Rodriguez struck out to end yesterday's 1-0 loss, it was the second time in the last five games that the Nats had gone down by that most pitiful of scores. Since June 1, they've scored 69 runs, for a woeful 3.3 runs-per-game pace. In over half their games this month, they've scored 3 runs or less.
It's kinda hard -- even for a deity like Lord Strasburg -- to win games when you can't score. Far too often, the burden on scoring has been on the team's 3-4-5: Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham. If they're not getting it done -- and even sometimes when they are -- the team isn't scoring enough to win.
Those offensive struggles have pushed the team to seven games under .500; they're a full three games behind next-to-last in the division. Those Wild Card hopes? Poof. They're gone. All they could salvage now, really, is a run at .500. And even that would take some doing.
So with contention out of the way, it lets GM Mike Rizzo focus on other things, and one of the big questions is what to do with the big guy, the big bat in the middle of that 3-4-5. Do you trade Adam Dunn? Do you re-sign him?
We know the team's been trying to re-sign him since Spring Training. But as always, the question is: is the price right? The great thing about Dunn, is you basically know what you're going to get with him. From season to season, he's about as consistent a hitter as you'll find. (Quite literally, considering his four straight seasons of exactly 40 homers) With Dunn, you'll get about 40 homers, about 110 walks, about 170 strikeouts, a .390 on-base and about a .530 slugging. You just don't have to worry about his numbers at the end of the year.
But within the season, it's feast or famine. He's as streaky and inconsistent a hitter as there is. When he's on, it's a thing of beauty. Take his .613 slugging average this June, for example. For the opposite, think back to April, when he couldn't buy a hit or a homer. Time and again, he waved through pitches, or just stared blankly as the pitches passed him by.
Overall, as a first baseman, he's a good, not great, bat. There are simply so many other great 1B in the majors that he doesn't stick out as the best. By one measure of offensive value, he has the 9th best bat among first baseman. He's not elite. He's just very good.
The other component of a player's value is their defense. And Dunn doesn't excel there, either. To his credit, Dunn appears to have worked on his defense. He's not great out there, but the offseason predictions of him being a nuclear-level disaster at the bag haven't been true. He'll still screw up a few plays here and there, but he's usually battling it to a draw. By UZR -- which tracks where the ball was hit, and compares players to how others played similar balls -- he's on pace to be about 2-3 runs below average at the position. That's nothing to get worked up over.
So a good, not great, bat. An OK glove. Add it up and you've got a decent player; above average, but not a superstar. Do you re-sign a player like that?
Is that decision made easier knowing that there's nobody in the minors ready to take over? Chris Marrero's still floating down in the minors, but he's barely slugging .460 in Double-A. Signing Dunn makes sense if he's willing to sign for another two years. Beyond that, and the Nationals need to walk away and look for a stop-gap solution next year.
With Dunn's age, and the history of his type of all-or-nothing sluggers fading fast, the real danger for the Nats is committing to too many years, and carrying dead weight on the roster in 2013. The time to put Dunn under contract for 2012 was two seasons ago when they gave him the initial contract in a depressed market. Now, he's established himself a bit, and with the market for free agents back up, they're probably not going to get him for the $10 million per they did last time.
Dunn can be a fun player to watch. And he's essential to the team's offense this year. But don't think that that's because of him. It has as much to do with the lack of talent at the top and bottom of the order. If Rizzo improves those areas, they won't need Dunn's bat as much as they do now. So sign him. But only at the right price. Spending big money on non-elite first baseman is usually a mistake, and with the Nats' mid-range payroll, they need to be extra careful they don't get themselves into a Richie Sexson situation.