Why the Nationals should trade Dunn, Willingham and Capps

Steve O Speak

First, I just want to say as a fan I love all three players, and am happy to have watched them and even met them at Fanfest. All three are great guys, and exceptionally nice, and all seem like stand up guys in the locker room as well. But the problem is, what is best for the Nationals future is to sacrifice the present. Dunn, Willingham and Capps are having career years (or close to it), and yet the Nationals are still in last place in the N.L. East and have the 7th worst record in all of baseball. And this is coming on the heels of having the worst record in baseball last season, with Dunn and Willingham in the middle of the lineup.

While a fan might point out that the injury bug has wrecked havoc on the pitching staff this year with Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler missing the whole season so far and Jason Marquis and Scott Olsen missing significant time, they need to realize the Nats have had a lot go right this season as well. Not only are Dunn, Willingham, and Capps exceeding expectations, but Ryan Zimmerman, Tyler Clippard, Pudge Rodriguez, and Livan Hernandez have played excellent ball as well. In addition rookies Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Roger Bernadina have had major contributions right off the bat. So while the injuries in their rotation have set them back, rookies and veterans alike are preforming at or well above expectations, and the Nationals are still in the bottom third of baseball. Now the optimist might say, well just wait till next year when J-Zim and Detwiler can join the rotation full time and add another piece or two in free agency, but that ignores the possibility that other players could get injured or have their performances collapse. And when it comes down to it, the Nationals (knock on wood) have been barely touched by the injury bug. Look at division rivals like the Phillies or Mets. Philadelphia has been without Placido Palanco, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and J.A. Happ for significant portions of the season and the Mets have been without Beltran all season and have been without Jon Niese and Jose Reyes for solid chunks of time as well. Are we really going to complain that we didn’t have Marquis and Zimmermann, when these teams are without front line guys?

Another problem with the ‘wait till next year approach’ is that unlike this year when the Nationals were going to have a boost of rookies, there are no more reinforcements in the upper minors for Washington to call on. With the promotions of Strasburg, Storen, Desmond and Bernadina, the well is pretty dry at the AAA and AA levels for the Nationals. What you see is what you get with this team. That means any additional talent will need to come from the free agent or trade market (and you don’t really have a ton of prospects to trade). While things are better in D.C. I’m guessing the Nationals won’t be at the top of list for many players on the open market. Without a major influx of talent (and not just one big signing) the Nationals won’t escape the N.L. East cellar much less compete for the playoffs. Unless of course they make the tough decision and trade these three players (and possibly a few others).

Now it might seem backwards that trading two-thirds of the middle of your lineup and your All-Star closer will make you a better team and closer to contention, but that is exactly what I believe. And as for just trading either Dunn or Willingham or Capps because you have Storen waiting in the wings, the Nationals need to go all out, in for a penny in for a pound. All three players have their trade value at their highest point right now, and it is time for the Nationals to cash in on them. Here is a break down as to why each player should be traded and what the Nationals should look for in return.

Adam Dunn: Dunn is the most obvious player on this list. For one thing he is the most well-known player and likely the best bat available on the trade market. Another reason why Dunn is on the list is he is an impending free agent and while it is possible the Nats either sign him long term or get draft picks back in return, neither option is a guarantee. Dunn might get a better offer on the free agent market, and while that would assure getting two draft picks, you never know where the pick from the signing team will be. It could end up being a third round pick (or worse) which doesn’t have near the value of the original first round pick. The draft pick compensation is a nice consolation prize (especially if you are a contender) and helps to increase his value in a trade, but it is not a great option for making the Nats better long term.

For one thing you need to sign the draft picks which will cost money, and secondly they need to develop, which could take 2-5 years. And even then the player could be an absolute bust. While it is possible that the prospects acquired don’t pan out either, they will be closer to the majors and should have a much higher success rate.

Dunn’s value is at an all-time high, his bat is flat out crushing the ball in a time where power numbers are down across the league. While he still strikes out a ton, he has the power numbers and OBP to make up for it. On top of the value of his bat, Dunn’s glove is no longer the liability it once was. In Dunn’s first full season at first base he has shown he can adequately (compared to being god-awful in LF) handle the position, meaning he can be targeted by teams that need both a first baseman or a DH. Dunn’s impending free agency also actually helps make him attractive to certain teams, like the Angels who’s first baseman will be back next season, or the Rays or Rangers who might not be in a position to add long term payroll. Given the relative afford-ability ($ 5+ million remaining this year) and his impending draft pick compensation, contenders shouldn’t bulk at adding his bat for the stretch run.

Dunn might not bring back a prospect package that single-handedly change the Nationals fortunes, but it should bring back a good return. It will likely be a 3-4 player deal, with two players either major league ready or should be by next season and 1-2 players likely a couple years away. Two of the players should profile as good starting caliber players, with at least one having the upside to be great. While Dunn might not elicit a top 20 prospect like Smoak or Wallace (Lee and Holliday deals) he’s not far off. At least one prospect should be in that 25-40 range (or that level if they are already in the majors), while that might make it harder for a team like the White Sox or Angels to make a deal since they don’t have anyone on that level (Trout isn’t going anywhere), that just means the 2nd and 3rd piece of the deal need to be better.

Check back later for Part II when I look at the values for Willingham and Capps and give up some prospective trade scenarios

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