Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

The Cases for Adrian and Adam

Posted by dannmckeegan on October 8, 2010

Both Adrian Gonzalez of San Diego and soon-to-be free agent Adam Dunn have reportedly expressed interest in playing for the Chicago Cubs. Gonzalez, as first basemen by trade, expressed this sentiment to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmeyer last week as the Cubs were in the midst of hurting the Padres’ playoff chances. Carlos Zambrano claims, according to Bleed Cubbie Blue, that Dunn told him way back when the “first baseman”/slugger first was traded to the desert from the banks of the mighty Ohio.

While I have largely dismissed the arguments for Dunn up to this point, I’m beginning to come around on the possibility. Between Dunn and Aramis Ramirez, the infield grass would obviously need to be grown out quite a bit to give the immobile corner infielders a chance on grounders requiring lateral movement. We’ve already seen the tremendous range and arm of young Castro, and converted third baseman Blake DeWitt shouldn’t be affected much at second. The longer grass would incidentally help out a Cubs team that also will still be lacking in team speed.

Dunn also would be a comparatively cheap option at the position in relation to his production. That he has proven to be an inadequate corner outfielder limits his appeal in a National League glutted with talented first basemen. By the same token, his unwillingness to become an AL team’s designated hitter cuts the potential market for his services by nearly a half. The Cubs would, in fact, be one of only a handful of teams that would seem to be a good fit. Here’s a quick look at the NL’s first base situation:

  • NYM – Ike Davis (.261/.354/.440, 19 HR, 71 RBI)
  • FLA – Logan Morrison (.307/.427/.487 in 293 PA with AAA New Orleans, .283/.390/.447, 29 XBH in 287 PA with the Marlins)
  • PHI – Ryan Howard‘s (.276/.353/.505, 31, 108) $125 million (heh) contract extension
  • ATL – Freddie Freeman (.319/.378/.521, 18, 87 at AAA Gwinnett) as the heir apparent to Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee
  • WSN – AA Harrisburg 21-year-old prospect Chris Marrero (.294/.350/.450, 18, 82)
  • STL – Albert Pujols (.312/.414/.596, 42, 118)
  • CIN – Joey Votto (.324/.424/.600, 37, 113)
  • MIL – Prince Fielder (.261/.401/.471, 32, 83, 114 BB)
  • HOU – Brett Wallace (.301/.359/.509, 18, 61 with AAA Las Vegas, .222/.296/.319, 2, 13 in 159 PA with the Astros)
  • PIT – Garrett Jones (.247/.306/.414, 21, 86)
  • CHC – Tyler Colvin, Jeff Baker, (combined for .260/.319/.468, 24, 77 150 K in 618 PA) and organizational filler such as 30-year-old Micah Hoffpauir and 27-year-old Bryan LaHair; AA Tennessee 3B Russ Canzler and Josh Vitters are a year or two away, even if they could convert, while AAA Iowa 3B Marquez Smith likely lacks the stick necessary to gamble on moving the aging Ramirez across the diamond
  • SDP – Adrian Gonzalez (.298/.393/.511, 31, 101)
  • SFG – free agent Aubrey Huff, who is likely to be retained (.290/.385/.506, 26, 86)
  • ARI – Adam LaRoche‘s (.261/.320/.468, 25, 100) 2011 club option, or Brandon Allen (.261/.405/.528, 25, 86 at AAA Reno, .267/.393/.400 in just over 50 PA with the DBax in 2010)
  • COL – Todd Helton‘s (.256/.362/.367, 8, 37 in 473 PA) bloated contract’s final year ($10.6 million plus a $4.9 million buyout of the club’s 2012 option)
  • LAD – James Loney (.267/.329/.395, 10, 88), entering his second arbitration-eligible off-season

Most NL teams have solid options at first base already. While the Cubs and Nationals both have developing farm systems, neither has an immediate fix for the first base position. Of course, it is likely that both Glaus and Lee, hampered in recent years by injury, are forced to the Junior Circuit so that they can play first while DHing part-time to prolong their respective careers.

Free agent Paul Konerko is still serviceable as a full-time fielder as a one-year option, but the American League’s DH rule provides the competitive advantage necessary to offer him more money and more years: a breakdown of the body would still allow a Thome-esque twilight for one of the ChiSox’s most popular players in franchise history. Utility fluke Jose Bautista is “Arb-4” classified, presumably having long ago been a “super-two” call-up, but might command more than the Jays are willing to invest. Aging Lance Berkman might have his option picked up in New York, providing the Yankees with a prominent full-time DH.

Adam Dunn is somewhat alone as a superstar-caliber run producer in the latter part of his statistical prime years.  About to turn 31, Dunn has put up at least 38 HR and 92 RBI every year dating back to 2004. While that’s quite a seven-year stretch, it’s also necessary to note that his walk total plummeted in 2010. Ranging from 101 to 122 over the previous 6 seasons, Dunn’s walks totaled only 77 in 2010. Long considered a player with an “old man” skill set, his apparent deterioration of that aspect of his game is troublesome. As a master of the other true outcomes (I won’t argue the use of the phrase in respect to the Big Donkey), Dunn’s high OBPs were always bolstered by that walk total. In fact, Dunn only once reached 150 hits in a season, that year being 2004. His .356 OBP in 2010 was the lowest of his career since a .354 mark way back in 2003, when he was just 23 and had almost 200 fewer PA than he had in 2010. That number also was partly a function of his .215 batting average, whereas his .260 mark in 2010 was actually above his sub-.250 career average.

Adam Dunn is an easy choice for pure offense over the short term, but it’s still a very questionable investment of money if the team otherwise is not prepared to make a run at the World Series. Why bother bringing in a stopgap solution when the gap isn’t affecting the future either way? I still believe it less than prudent to bring Dunn in, especially if a better option via trade, free agency or in-house development is viable.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, is a new entity in discussions that largely had focused on Dunn, and perhaps even Prince Fielder. The case for Adrian is easy: he slugs well against both right- and left-handed pitching; he’s a lefty; he’s a plus defender; he’s only 28; and he has a reputation as a solid clubhouse guy, the type of team leader an increasingly youthful Cubs team can most certainly use. His production has certainly been hampered, at least in respect to his power totals, by playing in an extreme pitcher’s park for all of his home games. Having expressed interest in coming to Chicago, Gonzalez is able to force the Padres’ hand in this, the winter preceding the final year of his contract. Does that organization hold onto him, trying to make another one-man-lineup run at a playoff spot against strong Colorado and San Francisco teams? Do they dump him to a contender at next year’s deadline in exchange for the best that MLB’s farm systems have to offer? Do they wait for the end of 2011, offer him arbitration, watch him leave, and take the sandwich picks?

Or do they cash in their chips early? A strong offer from the Cubs involving some of their top young talent might be enough to pry Gonzalez loose without hurting the team’s present or future makeup too much. Players such as Chris Archer, Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Brandon Guyer, Hak-Ju Lee, and others all are seen as legitimate MLB prospects with strong upside value. The right combination, plus some right-now Major League help, would be a real temptation for a front office that seems capable only of providing a pitching staff around their star.

My overall feeling is that the Cubs will not be part of the Donkey Sweepstakes. Dunn’s negatives outweigh the positives at this point in his career. Gonzalez, on the other hand, looks to be worth some real pursuit this winter. If San Diego wishes to hang onto him, there is always the winter of 2011. And considering the arrival timetables of many of the Cubs’ more highly regarded prospects, 2012 might be the magic year anyway. In my mind, the primary appeal of an early acquisition is the ability to renegotiate the final year (2011) of his contract into a multiyear deal that wipes out next year’s $5.5 million club option. If the Cubs could spread the “raise” across the first few years of a contract, then the impending departures of Ramirez, Fukudome, Silva, Samardzija, and Grabow gives them ample space to compensate one of the game’s premier players.

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