Kenny Williams strikes again. It has been common knowledge around the league that the White Sox have been in pursuit of Adam Dunn for some time and Kenny finally got his man. Williams has a way of making deals appear virtually out of thin air and this is no exception. While we all knew that Williams and the White Sox tried - and failed - to swing a deal with the Nationals for the slugger at the trade deadline last year, there had been little to no news on that front so far this off season. So when the news came that a deal was in place it surprised me a bit. Not because I didn't consider the possibility of Dunn coming to the Sox, but rather because it happened so fast.
When I ran down the payroll situation of the White Sox at the outset of this years off season, I knew Williams was going to have his hands full trying to improve his club enough to leapfrog the Twins while having little money to work. With and some tough positions to fill, even with the expected non-tendering of closer Bobby Jenks, money was still going to be tight. Thankfully, the deep pockets of owner Jerry Reinsdorf appear to be giving Williams a little extra wiggle room.
Payroll constraints not withstanding, one area that seemed almost certain to be addressed was designated hitter, where the White Sox received horrible production after a failed experiment at signing light hitting position players to man a position where hitting is the only job.
By signing Dunn to a 4 year 56 million dollar deal the White Sox have ensured that they'll have one of the games pre-eminent power hitters in the middle of their lineup for years to come. Though, much like with the signing of Victor Martinez in Detroit, they'll be getting Dunn for the tail end of his prime and the beginning of his decline phase as he'll be 32 in 2011. Of course, all players age differently and there is nothing to say that Dunn wont produce the best numbers of his career while in Chicago. Dunn could provide a fantastic complement to the right handed Paul Konerko, should the White be able to bring him back (more on that later) - or anchor a lineup all on his own should a deal not be able to be worked out.
One of the most prolific home run hitters in the game today - and one of it's most prolific strikeout artists (32.8% for his career!) - Dunn is the definition of a all-or-nothing swinger. Of his 145 hits last year, 76 went for extra bases. Dunn is going to swing and miss a lot, that's just a fact of life, but when he doesn't miss, he has a tendency to hit the ball very, very hard. Of course, it's not just Dunn's power that makes him valuable, he's also one of the games best at taking a walk (I guess the thought of a strike being hit 450 feet will entice guys to nibble a bit more than normal). His power/on-base combination have made him one of the games best, and most consistent offensive forces as he has posted an OPS of .890 or better in six of the past seven seasons.
Of course, we also know that Dunn has his faults. There are the strikeouts of course, but there is plenty of debate as to just how much worse a strikeout is than another sort of out - or if it's worse at all. So I'll leave the relevance of that particular aspect of his game to your own judgment. Because of the strikeouts, Dunn isn't going to hit for average, but thankfully to say, he takes all those walks which still allows him to be an on-base machine. What isn't debatable is the fact that playing Dunn at any position is a serious hazard to health of your pitchers ERA's. After five straight seasons with a mind-boggling -23 UZR/150 (AT LEAST!!!) or worse at first base, Dunn showed some improvement during the past year, but it's likely that's just noise. And, in left field he's really no better.
He's so bad in fact that playing him in the field regularly forces him to lose a massive amount of his value. In 2009, for instance, despite posting a .928 OPS (good for a 4.1 oWAR according to Baseball-reference) was worth a -3.2 dWAR. So in the end, his value - at least according to WAR, was just barely above average. While that's an extreme example (his dWAR has never approached those numbers again) he's fairly consistently cost his team significantly on the field.
Thankfully to say, the White Sox play in the American League where they can bury his glove at DH. Initially Dunn had been hesitant to accept a role with a team that would use him as a designated hitter (probably because it lowers a players value as a free agent by a good amount), but it appears he's come around. If the White Sox can avoid deploying Dunn in their defensive rotation as much as possible, it's likely that he'll be worth a consistent 3.5-4.0 WAR for at least the first 2-3 years of his contract. If so, this could be a brilliant deal for the White Sox. But if Ozzie Guillen should, for some reason, insist on playing Dunn in the field, this could just as easily become a disaster.
If we assume that Dunn can be worth at least 3.0 WAR per year, an easily attainable goal provided good health and minimal time playing defense, he'd be worth a minimum of around 51m. That's close enough to even money for a free agent signing for it to be considered a success. And really, 3.0 WAR as a DH is probably his downside. If he can produce the way he has throughout his career he should easily be worth more. At the likely rate of around 4.0 WAR, he'll be worth 68m - a number that would easily eclipse what the White Sox will be paying him.
If properly utilized, Dunn should provide a legitimate middle-of-the-order run-producing bat for the next four years who can help mash the White Sox back to the post season in homer-friendly US Cellular. He could also prove to be something even more rare - a free agent steal.