We talked a little bit yesterday about the idea of giving Adam Dunn the four-year deal he's rumored to want. Like I said yesterday, there's some risk involved in giving Dunn the fourth year, because it would make him a 10-and-5 player (10 years of service time, five with one team) and allow him to block any trades. So the Nationals would have a first baseman making $15 million or so, in his walk year and able to veto a trade, and he'd be 34 years old.
The fact that Dunn would be 34, in itself, is not a problem. But if he follows a trajectory like the players to whom his career is most frequently compared, the Nationals could have no recourse to move Dunn right about the time his production could begin to taper off.
Let's take a look at the 10 players whose careers most closely compare to Dunn's through their age 29 season: Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, Rocky Colavito, Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, Sammy Sosa, Troy Glaus, Ralph Kiner, Barry Bonds and Boog Powell. Right away, it's difficult to use this whole list as a point of comparison, because three players on it (Canseco, Sosa and Bonds) have admitted or are linked to steroid use, and far exceeded expectations in their mid-30s. But we'll press on anyway.
Strawberry had one season of 20-plus homers after age 29, and never played more than 101 games. Colavito was fifth in the AL MVP race at age 31, saw his average drop 49 points at age 32 and never hit 30 homers again. Jackson had his finest year with the Yankees at age 34, batting .300 with 41 homers and finishing second in the MVP vote. Killebrew won AL MVP honors at 33, and finished third in the vote at 34. Kiner had the worst year of his career at 32, and then retired Powell's last great season was at age 33, and he retired two years after that.
That group of players shows a mix of tremendous twilight performances and fall-off-a-cliff results. But the player with whom Dunn's last five seasons have most closely compared is Strawberry. Now, obviously, Strawberry had his fair share of personal problems that affected his production in his 30s, and Dunn doesn't have that, but injuries played into Strawberry's decline, too. And the 10 players whose overall careers compare most closely to Dunn's - in other words, the players whose careers Dunn's would resemble if he never played another game - eight experienced major dropoffs in production between 32 and 34.
You can find all of those lists here.
None of this is to say that the Nationals should or shouldn't sign Dunn. It's just an explanation of the risk they'd be taking by doing so, especially by offering him a fourth year.
Let me know what you think.