I've been discussing this with a few of you in the comments section of a couple blog posts early this afternoon, so I thought I'd distill some of those conversations into a more thorough piece of analysis:
The Nationals offered Adam Dunn arbitration today, which mostly gives them protection if he leaves in free agency. I don't believe he would take the arbitration offer unless he has no other choice. And though there's a line of thinking that today's Victor Martinez-to-the-Tigers move means Dunn's market is drying up, I don't see the slugger being out of options yet. Still, there's a back-door strategy by which the Nationals could get Adam Dunn back. It's risky, but it could get them the first baseman at a price they see as more reasonable.
The primary difference between Dunn's camp and the Nationals has been one of valuation; some in the front office have been reluctant to give Dunn the long-term deal he seeks in part because of his defense, while his status as one of the premier power hitters in the game has led agent Greg Genske to believe Dunn can get a multi-year deal on the open market, starting at a price of $40 million over three years or so.
But if the Nationals are content to play a game of chicken, waiting on Dunn's price to drop while bypassing cheaper insurance policies like Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche, they might get the first baseman to accept a long-term deal of, say, $30 million over three years. If Dunn runs out of suitors, and it's that kind of an offer or taking arbitration and waiting another year to pursue a multi-year deal, he might decide that security now is better than taking a chance later. It's not unlike the way the Nationals got Dunn in February 2009, signing him to a two-year, $20 million deal the week players were scheduled to report to spring training.
The risk to that strategy is obvious: Dunn could sign somewhere else, and if they wait too long, the Nationals could be looking at in-house options like Josh Willingham or Michael Morse to play first. But there are still enough first basemen on the market that a roll of the dice could pay off for the Nationals, dropping Dunn's asking price to a point where the Nationals would be comfortable locking him up.
It's a gutsy move, and in the end, I still think there are enough possibilities for Dunn that he will likely land somewhere else. If you don't see the Nationals signing a replacement for Dunn, though, it could be because they're waiting him out, letting them bring back the slugger while saving some dollars to pursue other needs.
In the spirit of Black Friday, call it the Nationals' version of bargain-hunting.
I'll be on the John Riggins Show from 3:20-4:00 today to talk about the Nationals and free agency, as well as the idea of expanded MLB playoffs and what's next for Bryce Harper. You can watch on MASN, listen on WTOP HD-3, or tune it at riggo44.com.