Two years after getting scorned by most of baseball, Adam Dunn has reportedly landed the big deal he’s been looking for. According to the LA Times, the White Sox are on the verge of a 4 year, $56 million deal to bring Dunn to the south side of Chicago. Interestingly enough, he’s coming off almost the exact same offensive season he had the last time he was a free agent, and is two years older, but he’s getting a deal for double the years and almost triple the money of his last contract.
There seem to be several factors driving the difference. One, as we’ve noted, prices for players seem to be going up this winter. Nearly every player who has signed so far has gotten more money than expected before the winter began, and Dunn continues that trend. The median estimate from our Contract Crowdsourcing results had him signing for 3/36, and this is an extra year and several million per year more for Dunn. For whatever reason, MLB teams seem far more willing to spend on talent this winter than in the past two off-seasons.
There’s also Dunn’s willingness to accept a position with an AL team, and by extension, an agreement to spend some time at DH. Two years ago, Dunn was viewed as perhaps the worst defensive player in baseball, and yet he was steadfast that he wanted to remain on the field, whether that was in the outfield or at first base. The Nationals took advantage of the soft market that created and made Dunn his only real offer.
This time, Dunn realized that to get paid, he had to be willing to put down the glove. While the White Sox will likely use him at first base if they don’t re-sign Paul Konerko, he’ll almost certainly see time at DH as well, especially in the latter part of this contract. Dunn’s fielding has been a huge stain on his career, and being willing to stay off the field created enough interest for him to become significantly richer.
For the White Sox, they get the left-handed slugger they’ve been coveting for a while, and Dunn should have no problem launching balls into the seats in one of the most home run friendly parks in America. However, they paid a pretty steep price to acquire his power. As a Type A free agent, Dunn’s signing will cost the White Sox the 23rd pick in the upcoming draft, and they’ll also be on the hook for $14 million a season for Dunn’s age 31-34 seasons.
This deal essentially values him as a +3 win player going forward. If he ends up strictly as a DH, he’d need to post a .380 wOBA and get 600 plate appearances to reach that mark. Not coincidentally, his career wOBA is .384. If he plays first base regularly, he may need to hit even better than that, however, as his defense there is still a negative.
Essentially, the White Sox are betting that Dunn can maintain his peak production into his early 30s while switching leagues and potentially transitioning to being a bat-only player. If he sees some age related decline, struggles in the American League, or doesn’t adjust well to life as a sometimes-DH, he’ll have a hard time justifying this contract.
However, Dunn has been a remarkably consistent offensive performer, and he’s going to the American League version of heaven for flyball hitters. While it’s probably a bit more money than I would have paid, it’s pretty easy to see Dunn being successful in Chicago for at least the first half of this deal. It’s probably a bit of an overpay, but it’s one that has a decent chance of working out.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.