Is Trading Dunn Even Possible?

Nick Cafardo has reported something that has probably been true for a long time -- the White Sox would be interested in trading Adam Dunn. Dunn is owed $15 million for 2014, which will be the last year on his deal, his age 34 season.

It is certainly fair to say that Dunn's tenure with the White Sox has been a disappointment. The signing made sense at the time, as the team had positioned itself as a playoff contender that desperately needed lefty bats, walks, and power. Based on that description Dunn seemed an obvious choice.

2011, instead, represented an extreme example in players with Dunn's skill set hitting a sudden, brutal wall and the White Sox have not made the playoffs in any of his three years with the team. Frankly, I consider the White Sox lucky that they've gotten the production they have in 2012 and 2013 given just how bad his first season in Chicago was. Depressing as it may be, Dunn's 2013 OPS+ of 103 represented the highest on the team.

For all that the White Sox probably would have jumped at the chance to trade Dunn, it has never really seemed possible. After all, who would have taken on a 3-year, $44 million commitment to a guy who had just hit .159/.292/.277 after 2011? The White Sox were forced to grit their teeth and just hope he bounced back — and in 2012 he managed a respectable 114 OPS+ in a season where the team managed to compete all the way to the finish line, albeit unsuccessfully. 

Which once again put the White Sox in an awkward position in terms of trying to trade him. They found themselves needing to push in their chips to try to win the division again in 2013, and pretty much needed Dunn if they were going to do it as they didn't have any other feasible option. 

In a way, 2013 being such an unmitigated disaster has liberated the franchise from their frantic, often self-destructive press to win immediately, and trading Adam Dunn may finally be a possibility. The White Sox have plenty of 1B/DH options, having retained Paul Konerko for one more season, having brought in Jose Abreu, and if Dayan Viciedo could actually hit well enough, he looks an awful lot like a DH himself. And, given how the organization has pivoted over the past 10 months, failing to make the playoffs in 2014 would hardly be a disaster.

The White Sox also have quite a bit of money freed up. By all accounts, at the trade deadline Rick Hahn prioritized trading partners that would be willing to take on all of the salary for guys like Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, as opposed to being willing to eat some of their contracts in order to boost his prospect returns. Between that and other contracts simply expiring, the White Sox find themselves sitting with a payroll in the $85-90 million range for 2014 (and much, much less committed going forward) after running out rosters that cost between $95-130 million for the past eight years. 

The fact that there is only one year left on Dunn's contract is another variable that makes trading Adam Dunn suddenly an option with a probability above zero. A team that is looking to compete in 2014 and is in really rough shape at first base may actually be interested in an Adam Dunn rental, particularly if the asking price is correct and the White Sox are willing to pay some of his salary. And why shouldn't they be? If they don't trade him they're paying him $15 million anyway. It's a sunk cost. 

Possible Partners:

It takes at least two teams to make a trade, and so it makes sense to see if there would actually be a market for Dunn. The market as of right now, however, seems rather limited.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, look like they are going to break camp with Travis Ishikawa as their primary 1B heading into the 2014 season. The Pirates won 94 games last year, ending a 20-year run of sub-.500 futility. As evidenced by their first base situation, they have some holes, and if they want to be competitive for more than one season, they would be wise to augment their roster. 

The Pirates, however, may be out of money. For some reason they declined to extend A.J. Burnett a qualifying offer, and so they did not collect a draft pick (and in this deep draft, a supplemental draft pick looks awfully nice). It was later announced that they offered Burnett a 1-year, $12 million deal - just $2.1 million less than the qualifying offer. 

i.e. The Pirates were too scared to risk spending $2.1 million more in order to try to collect a draft pick or bring back their staff ace from last year. That, or the $12 million wasn't a real offer. 

Adam Dunn would almost certainly be an upgrade on the Pirates' current situation, and the Pirates are a team that should be trying to add potency to their lineup. But, for this to happen the White Sox would have to pay a significant amount of cash. In my opinion that's worth doing, but Rick Hahn may not agree.

Another possibility lurks in the NL Central in the form of the Milwaukee Brewers. While I do not really consider them contenders, they did give up a draft pick to sign Kyle Lohse last year, and have just added Matt Garza this offseason. If Gallardo were to bounce back from a down year, they would have a solid front three in their rotation, and they are making moves that indicate that they think they're competing. 

The Brewers will be getting Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez back from injury-riddled seasons, and first base is an area of glaring weakness for a franchise that has found good options at usually-hard-to-fill positions like shortstop, center field, and catcher. If Milwaukee were to get off to a good start in 2014, they may consider it worthwhile to add Dunn as an upgrade over their current 1B platoon of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay. 

Outside of those two teams, there don't appear to be a ton of options. The interest in Dunn is probably going to remain low, and if he does move it seems more likely to happen at the trade deadline if he has posted a strong first half rather than now before the season starts. The market could strengthen if competing teams suffer injuries at 1B/DH as the season progresses.

In all, the idea of moving Dunn has nudged from an idea worth a healthy eye roll to something that seems possible should the stars align.

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