Heart of the order definitely beating

There’s perioidic talk among Nats fans about trading Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham for a package of prospects, or letting Dunn walk in free agency after the year. I’ve got to be honest: I don’t get it.

I understand the flaws in either player’s defense, or why some people aren’t fond of Dunn’s selective-to-a-fault approach at the plate. But combined with the year Ryan Zimmerman is having, it’s tough to argue with the results. And after struggling to produce them early in the year, the heart of the Nats’ order isn’t having any problems now.


The three players have combined for 35 of the Nationals’ 51 homers. They’ve accounted for 106 of the team’s 255 RBI, and 106 of the 263 runs. All three have OBPs over .375 and OPSes over .900. All three are in the top 10 in the NL in OPS, homers and most of the advanced offensive metrics. It might be the best offensive trio in the National League.

So why would you want to break that up?

Dunn’s due for a new contract after the season, and my guess is, it gets done to the tune of three years and $45 million or so; that’s a steep increase over two years and $20 million, but Ryan Howard has raised the market for first basemen. And Willingham will also get a raise after the season in arbitration. So will Zimmerman, whose contract will pay him $8.925 million in 2011.

(Brief aside: FanGraphs did an interesting piece on Zimmerman’s power yesterday. Worth reading.)

We were talking about this in the live chat last night; if the Nationals made a run at someone like Jayson Werth over the offseason, they could be on the hook for a $90-$100 million payroll, with $50 million or so going to four players. Even if they didn’t sign Werth or a similar bat, they could shell out $30 million to Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham fairly easily.

But this is the kind of lineup you need to win, and the Nationals don’t look as far away from doing that as they once did. I get all the arguments about the danger of Dunn regressing in his 30s, or about Willingham’s back, and the Nationals need to make prudent financial decisions in light of those possibilities. If you want to make a playoff run, though, you don’t subtract pieces like what they have now.

I’d love to hear some different takes on this. Do you keep the group together, or sell high? Watching this team every day, how easy is it to forget just how good the heart of the Nationals’ order has been lately? Let me know what you think.