When Frank Howard was racking up league-leading home run totals for the Senators, there was never reason for fans to chant "Sign Frank Howard!" night-after-night at RFK Stadium. Free agency was still several seasons away, and the reserve clause kept Hondo in a Washington uniform.
Not that he couldn't have been traded; the Cleveland Indians tried, in vain, to get big Frank, but never seemed to offer much of equal value. I recall one offer, reportedly their best one, of pitcher Steve Hargan, infielders Larry Brown and Vern Fuller, and catcher Ken Suarez for Howard. If you're not familiar with those names, don't worry about it - most current Indians' fans wouldn't know them either. There was a perception in the 1960's that a bad team would trade quality for quantity every time, except the Tribe really wasn't that much better than the Senators back then.
The "Sign Adam Dunn" chants the past few weeks are a different story. The bulk of the fans seem to love #44, despite the strikeouts and occasional adventures on defense. It's apparent he's not just going through the motions; he does his best, works very hard, and when he gets into that special zone offensively, is really something to see. If Dunn walks away this winter, a lot of folks will be genuinely disappointed.
I've addressed this before: there's currently no genuine in-house replacement for Dunn. Sure, Michael Morse can play first base very adequately and seems to have legitimate power, but is the club convinced he'll hit 30 bombs if he plays every day? Prospects Chris Marrero and Tyler Moore are a season or two away from being ready for full-time major league duty. There are potential answers in free agency, but a first baseman with similar power - Prince Fielder, for instance - would cost more than Dunn, and presents some physical challenges as well. Paul Konerko's numbers with the White Sox mirror Dunn's, but he's 3 years older.
Perhaps the Nationals are convinced they can replace Dunn through a trade, but at what price? Would they send a couple of their young arms away for an Adrian Gonzalez? His numbers this year are similar to Adam's, and he's 3 years younger, but if the Padres do anything this post-season, it's hard to see San Diego moving him that quickly.
Dunn wants to stay, and his teammates would prefer that he does. Reportedly, ownership favors retaining him as well. The simple marketing value of an Adam Dunn obviously counts for something.
I don't believe a drop-dead decision has yet been made, despite reports to the contrary. There are pluses and minuses on both sides of the equation. But, inasmuch as the Nats resisted the temptation to trade him the past two non-waiver trading deadlines, it's going to be difficult to rationalize not getting an extension done now.
The waiting is the hardest part.