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So, Where Does He Play?

When Adam Dunn swings a bat, fielders hardly ever have to worry about, well, you know, fielding. Last year, for instance, Dunn saw 2,811 pitches. He put jut 12.7 percent of them in play -- the second-lowest total in baseball. Dunn is the ultimate boom-boom-bust. He homers, or walks, or Ks. Fielders can nap.

Dunn's proclivities as a hitter are kind of fitting, too.

Dunn's shortcomings as a fielder aren't easy to mask. But you could do it, if only he played against a lineup composed entirely of Adam Dunns.

Anyway, there's a reason Dunn is referred to more often as a "slugger" than an "outfielder" or a "first baseman." The question for Washington now becomes: Where does this slugger play?

For his career, Dunn has never played a natural position other than first base, left field, or right field. Across eight major league seasons, he has spent a total of 9,364-2/3 innings wearing a mitt. Just rounding off the totals, Dunn has spent 10 percent of this time at 1B, 84 percent of this time in LF, and 6 percent of this time in RF. No matter his position, criticism has remained.

"I think it's justified," said Barry Larkin. "He hasn't been challenged to be that kind of defender. His sole purpose was, 'Let me go out there and hit home runs.' Hopefully, from Jim Bowden and Manny [Acta], there will be a challenge to take him to take a greater defensive accountability. His priorities the last couple years have been home runs, home runs, home runs."

Today, the Nats will host a press conference to introduce Dunn. My guess is, we'll hear a lot of talk about "competition" -- the idea being that the Nats will wait to see how its other players (Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham, etc.) look before deciding how best to handle Dunn.

(Side note: If you're curious to see some statistical information on Dunn's shortcomings, check out this Bill James site -- most notably, the 2006-08 +/- leaders. This is a metric that calculates how many plays a given fielder does or doesn't make, compared with an average replacement at the same spot.)

For the moment, though, Dunn is listed on Washington's official team roster as an infielder. And playing Dunn at first base, at least from this vantage point, makes the most sense. Either way, Washington has numerous options. It has protection against injuries, and it suddenly has some intriguing trade possibilities.

Here are a few scenarios.

IF DUNN PLAYS FIRST BASE, the Nationals can...

1.) take a long look at Nick Johnson during spring training, hope he looks healthy, and see what kind of trade value he has.

2.) keep Dunn from further clogging up an outfield that already features Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham, Willie Harris and Wily Mo Pena.

IF DUNN PLAYS LEFT FIELD, the Nationals can...

1.) use Johnson as their everyday first baseman, taking advantage of his value (when healthy) as a high-quality fielder and a patient, OBP-friendly hitter; OR, trade Johnson, and use Willingham at first base.

2.) have greater freedom to shop any of their young outfielders.

3.) have increased insurance against any complications (caused by health problems or legal problems) regarding Elijah Dukes.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 12, 2009; 8:59 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Nats Sign Adam Dunn For 2 Years, $20 Million
Next: If Johnson Is Healthy, Dunn Will Play LF


Do you think it would have made more sense to try and move Nicky before the signing was announced? didn't the Nats move themselves out of a good bargaining position?

I would like to see Dunn-Milledge-Dukes in the OF and move someone else for pitching or prospects or draft picks.

Posted by: sect104 | February 12, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

LF unless we can trade Johnson for something good (I'd rather have Johnson in the lineup than Willingham

Posted by: theredskin | February 12, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

All of these scenarios assume that Nick would be healthy. I thought that his wrist was still tender. They don't even know if he can really hit. Dunn will end up at 1B more than likely regardless. Nick would have to put in a helluva year in order for the Nats to re-sign him anyway.

Posted by: Brue | February 12, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I think there should have been a button for BOTH. If Nick is healthy, and that's a big if, then the real question is who you wnat in the line-up with Dunn, Nick or Willingham?

I think best case you hope for 100 starts for Nick in '09, that leaves 110+ starts for Willingham and Dunn, plus 50 is probably a more realistic expectation for Nick than 100.

Also, Dunn struggles against lefties and we see some tough, tough lefties in the NL East so starting Willingham and Johnson against all lefties and mostly Dunn and Johnson or Willingham against righties.

I'm very disturbed that Ladsen's articles at don't give a source for Dunn playing 1B or give any indication that Johnson has been told by the club (and not just by Ladsen) that he's going to be on the bench. As I've mentioned before, Ladsen is an idiot - let's hope he hasn't screwed us with realtions to Nick.

Finally, just so everyone got the word, Dunn's nickname is MONGO!

Posted by: estuartj | February 12, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I think you have to move NJ now for prospects, then probably one of the outfielders later in the season for a pitcher.

Posted by: trezmartin | February 12, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm with theredskin. You choose a healthy Johnson over Willingham 7 days a week (until Nick needs a rest). Play Dunn in LF.

Dukes is not durable for CF. Play him in RF. That leaves Milledge to man CF until we can uncover a better option.

Posted by: Good2bOK | February 12, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse


Although I strongly believe in the "leverage" argument when it comes to trades, I don't think Dunn hurts them. So long as NJ is healthy, he's got value, and he'll play 1b and Dunn plays LF. There's an OF logjam, but we could just as easily pursue deals for Willingham or Kearns or Milledge as well as NJ, so I don't think it hurts leverage.

I actually think it may make sense to move Kearns for whatever A-baller you get for him and play Dunn-Milledge-Dukes with Willingham rotating in as a 4th OF. Between those four, there's no reason you can't keep all of them fresh by rotating Willingham in regularly in RF and LF, and keep NJ fresh by putting Dunn and Willingham there from time-to-time.

And I'm giong to enjoy the away games in interleague:


Posted by: Highway295Revisited | February 12, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I agree that the team is better off (both offensively and defensively) with Dunn in left and Johnson at first than with Willingham in left and Dunn at first.

The problem with trading Nick is that he has little-to-no value right now. If the Nats give him away for a low-level prospect or bench player, and he ends up at all healthy this season, its a terrible trade. If he is healthy, the Nats get good production and may be able to trade him for something worthwhile mid-season.

Posted by: jcj5y | February 12, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Can we just appreciate the problem of having too many players to put on the field? The fact that we are even discussing which players will need to be on the bench more often is a positive sign for this team!

Now about the rotation ...

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | February 12, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

These are all good problems to have. Too many quality players. It was just a few days ago when there were serious worries about who was going to play first base --- now we've got a serious competition.

Betcha Nick and Dmitri are spending a few extra hours on the treadmills in Viera trying to get that weight down!

I don't think our trade positioning is any worse than before Dunn. GMs are watching to see if NJ is healthy now, and if he is you know they will be calling Bowden.

Again, great stuff at just the right time. If we don't have space, let Kearns, Dmitri or Johnson be reclamation projects for other teams. As much as I hate to see them go, its time to be looking towards Milledge and Dukes now --- and Harris' value to the Nats as infield-outfield utility is great.

Pitching pitching pitching. Work those phones Jimbo, work those phones.

Posted by: nattydread1 | February 12, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I think Kearns is the one that should go and you keep NJ. Unfortunately, with his contract and his lack of production I don't think Kearns could get us an infield rake or a bag of balls in return.

Posted by: Section505203 | February 12, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

"an outfield that already features Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham, Willie Harris and Wily Mo Pena."

Saying that an outfield "features" Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena reminds me of my old days as a software programmer, when we would say "It's not a bug, it's a FEATURE!"

Posted by: nunof1 | February 12, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I don't think we should be contemplating trades right now, except for Belliard. The only guys we'd want to move have little or no value and we don't have a pressing need to clear space on the 40 man so I hope they let it play out.

If they do trade Johnson I'm hoping JimBow can do as well as he did with Vidro (got us Martis I believe), but I doubt he could do even that well.

Given the injury history of so many of our players it doens't make sense to "clear out the cupboard with winter coming"

Posted by: estuartj | February 12, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Vidro got the Nationals Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto. Fruto was turned into Wily Mo Pena (with the assistance of Arizona and Chris Carter)

Stanton got the Nationals Shairon Martis.

Posted by: Brian_ | February 12, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

If you put Dunn in LF, then you probably need plus outfielders in the other positions. That suggests Dukes and Kearns.

Same if you put Dunn at 1B, then you go with Hernandez over Belliard.

Posted by: AshburnVA | February 12, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

My memory just isn't what is used to be, I've also never been able to keep track of which players got us which draftees in return...

Does anyone know what ARI's needs are? I'm thinking they CAN'T really be planning on playing Felipe Lopez at 2B all year and I've been lusting for Miguel Montero (LH CA) for a long time.

As I've mentioned here before I think the backup catcher is the least utilized spot on the roster. Why hold a slot for a guy who's going to play once a week? Get a 2nd real catcher and if you have an emergency catcher (like Willingham) you can use both guys in PH role on their days off.

Posted by: estuartj | February 12, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

He should play first base. There's no reason to put your hopes for the year on Nick Johnson. They won't get much of anything for Johnson, but they can probably get someone to pay some or most of his salary. I think you do that and cut your losses.

I also think they should just outright Wily Mo.

Go into the season with Willingham, Milledge, and Dukes, with Willie playing super-sub and the Double-Play Machine Kearns as insurance against a long-term injury.

Posted by: pondaz | February 12, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

The bottom line at this point is that we still have square pegs attempting to fill round holes. But at least we have more square pegs.

Posted by: BobLHead | February 12, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

estuart is right, mostly. Issue is who CAN be traded.

Johnson is never healthy and makes $5m
Kearns hasn't hit and makes $8m
Dukes has behavior issues
Pena has been hurt
Young has serious health issues and makes $5m.

None of them can be traded.

That leaves Willingham and Milledge. That is who they could move.

But why would they? Keep the glut, see who gets hurt then trade later if you need to.

Exception would be for a solid 2B and/or lead-off hitter. Otherwise, keep 'em all and see how it shakes out. Young and Johnson have big health question marks.

Posted by: Avar | February 12, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Let's give Ben Sheets the same contract, sign juan cruz and make a run at the playoffs.

Posted by: tlynch44 | February 12, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I really think that Milledge is best suited for LF due to a weak arm and an inability to get a good jump on flyballs. Dukes seems to be the better fit there with his athleticism. RF would seem the best spot for Dunn should NJ remain on the team. Isn't it nice to have these types of problems than the ones in the past. It just might be that NJ would be protection for Dunn in the order, rather than the other way around.

Posted by: cokedispatch | February 12, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Young doesn't need to be moved at all. He's not on the 40-man roster. He will either play out the season in Syracuse or will be on the DL for most of the season. Either way, he'll rake in his $5M from the Nats and then probably retire (or be a coach next season).

I also think that Nick is not 100% and will start the season on the DL. This is why the Nats signed Dunn and project him at 1st. They knew they couldn't count on NJ right now, they didn't want to bring DY back onto the 40-man and they didn't want to trot Belliard/Casto back out there to man first.

And, I still think that within the next couple of weeks the Nats will sign some veteran pitcher that had been injured for the past year or so to a minor-league deal, with an end-of-March out-clause the pitcher can utilize if he doesn't think he'd make the starting rotation (similar to what the Rangers did with Andruw Jones recently).

2 days to go ...

Posted by: erocks33 | February 12, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

"Vidro got the Nationals Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto."

And Snelling was flipped for Ryan Langerhans, another name we hopefully have heard the last of.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 12, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Agree with those who've observed that these are indeed good problems to have. Wherever he plays, we'll see some errors but he'll bring excitment at the plate, which we sorely needed. I was getting seriously annoyed with cheapness, and am now much happier. Also glad now that I upgraded my partial season tix. Pitchers and catchers are about to report--let the season begin!

Posted by: NatsFly | February 12, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Ken rosenthal reporting that nats want N.Johnson to play first, milledge dukes Dunn and Kearns in the OF.,-$20M-deal

Posted by: tlynch44 | February 12, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Thanks tlynch, that is a very interesting article, in part because it is based on information from sources instead of Ladson just making stuff up.

It says, in pertinent part:

"If Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson is healthy, he need not worry about getting displaced by Adam Dunn, who has reached preliminary agreement with the team on a two-year, $20 million contract. Dunn, according to major-league sources, has agreed to play either first base or left field. The Nationals ideally want Johnson at first and Dunn in left, giving them two players with high on-base percentages at those positions. Under that scenario, the Nats likely would trade one of their other outfielders, perhaps Josh Willingham. The Nats are still enamored with the potential of Lastings Milledge and Elijah Duke, and Austin Kearns is their right fielder."

Posted by: BobLHead | February 12, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Trader Jim, do your stuff.

Posted by: longterm | February 12, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

It was noted in an interview that Brian Sabean (GM of the SF Giants) did a while back that...

"[that] a big name LHH free agent would be the ‘type seen to play first, but doesn’t want to' and a RHH free agent, 'Lets in more runs than he scores.'

The lefty was Adam Dunn and the righty was Pat Burrell.

A couple of caveats: 1) Dunn as a left handed hitter probably would rather not play in SF, but may be willing to play first for another team and 2) Sabean's a GM, he was at the table with the Giants President and saying Dunn won't play first was an easy way to reflect the "our offense still sucks argument."

Posted by: noahthek | February 12, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

"and Austin Kearns is our right fielder."

Because, really, SOMEBODY out there has to be the consensus "He sucks" guy on the roster, and since Felipe is gone now...

I'm just happy that this spells the end of LoBooBelli, etc. at 1b.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | February 12, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I think this is why they go to Spring Training.

And, as Billy Bean says, you put together a team in Spring Training, see how it plays in April and May, then start making adjustments one way or the other.

That said, if we end up with a line-up that has Dunn in left, Johnson at 1st and Willingham traded for a useful pitching prospect, the hate JimBo movement ought to take a couple weeks off.

Posted by: advocate2 | February 12, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

"Does anyone know what ARI's needs are? I'm thinking they CAN'T really be planning on playing Felipe Lopez at 2B all year and I've been lusting for Miguel Montero (LH CA) for a long time." [e-stuartj]

Arizona has been asking for Michael Bowden from the Red Sox for Monterro. Bowden rates out as an A- prospect by Sickels. That would be asking for Zimmermann +. JZ rates out as a B+ by Sickels.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 12, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

@ Highway295Revisited

Hey, at least Kearns only sucks offensively. You sew him and "Mongo" together (a Frankensteinish operation best not actually contemplated or pictured), and you get a pretty great ballplayer. ;)

I actually am pulling for Kearns to snap out of his slump. Maybe the new hitting coach can get him back in the zone or something.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | February 12, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Seriously. How does Kearns have that position locked up at this point? If anyone should ever have to go into Spring Training having to earn a spot, it's him.

Posted by: pondaz | February 12, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Asked and answered. New post.

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 12, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I was disappointed to read that Austin Kearns IS the team's right fielder. Oh well, things can certainly change -- including my perception of Austin Kearns.

By the way, the poll above -- like so many polls -- is missing an option: either I don't know or We don't have enough information yet. As most of the comments above say, it all depends on what happens. As has also been pointed out, it's great to have this option: it makes more trades possible, and gives injury insurance at more positions. I like that.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 12, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Will Milledge give Dunn #44? What number will Milledge take then? There are an awful lot of Milledge brand new jerseys in the team store! Glad I didn't buy one yet.

Posted by: ilovethenats | February 12, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

ugh why does this make me cringe: "and Austin Kearns is their right fielder".

the guy flat out stinks. if he's not good get rid of him! isn't that what makes teams better? get rid of the ones who dont produce and sign and play players who can and have something to prove.

This team would be better without kearns, belliard, and willy mo. all players with paltry .200 something averages last season that arent quick and take up roster space

Posted by: skinzfan4 | February 12, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I said that Sickels rating from memory so I coudl be wrong. I did check Kevin Goldstein's rating from BP, and he has Michael Bowden as a 5 star. AZ isn't getting Bowden for Monterro, nor is AZ getting Zimmermann for Monterro, but I think you can assume the price would be high.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 12, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

PTBNjca, I remember somebody (I don't know who all these rankers are) rating Zimmermann as B+ but stating that he very nearly went A- on him. For what it's worth.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 12, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Larkin suggests: "Hopefully, from Jim Bowden and Manny [Acta], there will be a challenge to take him to take a greater defensive accountability."

... isn't this taking the reclamation project thing just a bit too far?

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 12, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I find that comforting, because I think it suggests we will simply hang onto all of our assets for the time being and see how things shake out. Nick may be hurt. Willingham's back may act up. Even Kearns is coming off an injury. Dukes presents various risks. If everyone is healthy and playing well, we have assets to deal.

I can see an argument for dealing Nick now, which is that his value might be at its peak when he has yet to prove that he is incapable of starting the season. But I prefer to hold out for Nick at first and Dunn in left.

Also, it sounds like Kearns might have the edge in right, leaving Dukes and Milledge to battle for center, which is consistent with rumblings we've heard out of the front office before.

At the risk (actually, the certainty) of getting some verbal rocks tossed my way, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Kearns should start in right on opening day. The strategy: it improves the defense (Dunn/Dukes/Kearns > Dunn/Milledge/Dukes), and it gives us a chance to recover some of Kearns' value so that he can be flipped in July.

I would love to keep a healthy Nick, with his OBP and defense, on this team.

Posted by: BobLHead | February 12, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Play Dunn at first.

Allow Dukes to move to center field and Milledge to left field.

Make Kearns the fourth outfielder.

Try and get value for Nick Johnson if he has a good spring training record and is healthy, and if no one is willing to offer value then keep him as insurance.

Johnson says he doesn't want to be on the bench. Good. All competitive ballplayers say that. You don't want guys that focus on a bench role without competition.

But given Johnson's injury history and how much the Nationals have paid him while he was on IR, if the need is for Nick to sit and be an insurance policy till the trade deadline, I don't see any reason why he should be a malcontent.

He simply hasn't stayed on the field enough over time to count on him.

That's why the Yankees originally dealt him from New York years ago. It wasn't a lack of talent, but too much time on the IR.

Posted by: leopard09 | February 12, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Not sure why we're still here in the old post for this, but BobL, I'm really not sure that Johnson's value is high right now. My guess is that most other teams are treating him like we (the commenters) are: the man's made of Kleenex, so until he actually steps on the field and produces, he's presumed to be injured.

I could be wrong, surely.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 12, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The Sporting News is also reporting that it will be 1st base and Johnson will not accept a role on the bench. If healthy, they indicate he would be moved.

Posted by: uncledak | February 12, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

The one and only surplus this team has is young outfield talent (or perhaps more accurately "potential talent").
Dukes, Kearns, and Lastings (despite his shortcomings) are the best fielders of the every-day guys, and in a lineup where you might have Lastings batting 2, Kearns and Dukes 5 and 6 with Dunn playing 1b and batting 4, that seems like the best of all possible scenarios. Get whatever you can for Nick in a trade - you've still got major league ready 1b backup in Dimitri (and lets face it, Nick's time has passed in Washington). Willingham and Harris are great IF/OF super subs, one a righty and one a lefty. Dunn is probably the worst defensive outfielder of the whole bunch, so put him at 1b where it's at least a little more palatable to have a poor defensive player. Here's my dream lineup:
SS Guzman S
CF Milledge R
3b Zimmerman R
1b Dunn L
LF Dukes R
RF Kearns R
C Flores R
2b Hernandez S
P --------- -

Maybe Dukes turns out to be a better fielder and switches with Milledge, that's possible. Maybe Dukes turns out to be a better #2 hitter and you move Lastings to 6 - that's fine too.

Your main bench options:

2b/3b - Belliard R
IF/OF - Harris L
1b/LF - Willingham R
SS/2b to be named later (Cintron, A. Gonzalez?)

Compare that to last year and the '08 Nats really DO look like a AAA team.

Posted by: ajtrue78 | February 12, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

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