Nationals Dunn in by inactivity again

Adam Dunn

DunnFor Washington Nationals fans, this must seem like déjà vu all over again. Perhaps the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo did not feel Adam Dunn was worth the $14 million per year he’ll receive from the Chicago White Sox. Perhaps they felt his questionable defense was no longer a fit in the National League. But it’s how they lost Dunn that has to leave fans scratching their heads.

As the trade deadline approached in 2006, the Nationals possessed arguably the most desirable player who was also seemingly available -- Alfonso Soriano. Soriano was in the midst of a career year, reaching the rare 40 home run/40 stolen base plateau.

At the trade deadline, Soriano was hitting .289/.365/.588 with a whopping 32 home runs. Due to the interest in Soriano and Washington’s presumed long-term focus, there was potential to net several impact young players in exchange for the last few months of Soriano. It was also obvious at the time that Soriano was in line for a payday that would exceed what the Nationals were likely willing to give.

Then-GM Jim Bowden did not trade Soriano, who left in the offseason for an eight year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs and the Nationals received two compensatory draft picks. They turned them into high school lefthander Josh Smoker -- who is 9-17, 5.48 ERA in his minor league career, failing to rise above Single-A -- and college righty Jordan Zimmermann. Although he has shown promise, he missed half of 2009 and nearly all of 2010 due to injury and has a 4.71 ERA in his Major League career.

Washington Nationals Record
At Trade Deadline, 2006 vs 2010

Last season, the Nationals found themselves in a similar position -- out of the postseason race and with one of the premier available commodities in Dunn. At the deadline, Dunn was hitting .276/.366/.558 with 24 home runs. Given the team’s focus on the future, the Nationals seemed perfectly positioned to cash Dunn in for a handful of prospects or young impact players, particularly since they had been unable to sign him to an extension.

Rizzo did not trade Dunn and the slugger left for Chicago. Washington will receive a compensatory draft pick, a return that will almost certainly fall well short of what they could have received had they traded Dunn in July.

Any hope the Nats had that Soriano or Dunn would lead them on a second half surge proved misguided. Both players were at their peak values at the trade deadline; Soriano’s OPS dropped from .953 before the deadline to .830 after, and Dunn’s dropped from .924 to .830. In the end, the Nationals whiffed on two opportunities to cash in impending free agents for a package of young players and/or prospects.

Instead of two different packages of young talent, the team will receive compensatory draft picks of considerably less value, one of which has already been used on a player that lacks impact upside. The fact that this happened despite a change of front office regimes has to be doubly disappointing for fans in the nation’s capital.