After a conversation on Twitter a few weeks ago, I’ve been puzzling over the idea of trading Jason Bay for Adam Dunn, Chicago’s version of a randomly struggling power hitter with a huge contract. And the changed circumstances of Ike Davis, along with the underlying numbers for each of the two players in the prospective swap, may make such a deal worth considering for the Mets.
Full disclosure: I’ve wanted the Mets to sign Adam Dunn for years. Prior to the 2009 season, the idea that the Mets could have filled left field with Dunn for two years, $20 million, as Washington did, filled my heart with jealousy. Dunn has consistently provided around 40 home runs, a terrific on-base percentage, and lousy defense at any position.
But while his struggles this year are numbingly awful- 100 strikeouts already, a .624 OPS- Dunn is, by component, largely the same player he’s always been. When he makes contact, he’s right at his career norms in fly balls, line drives and ground balls. His walk rate is right around career norm as well. His batting average on balls in play is way down, and that is almost certainly a question of luck, since he’s hitting the ball just as hard. Same goes for his percentage of fly balls leaving the park. In other words, his results need to change, but the process is largely intact (though he is making less contact, even by Adam Dunn standards).
Jason Bay, by contrast, has red flags all over his internal numbers, along with a .624 OPS, identical to Dunn’s. His fly ball percentage has dropped from 49.1 percent in 2009 to 39.9 percent in 2011. And those fly balls haven’t become line drives, they’ve become ground balls. Meanwhile, his batting average on balls in play is .300, a bit lower than career standards, but not enough to suggest a vigorous revival as soon as the fates become kinder. The only aspect of his performance that suggests a rebound is the paltry 5.3 percent of fly balls leaving the ballpark, though that is right in line with his 2010 numbers. However, he simply isn’t driving the ball, which could simply mean he’s become a very different kind of hitter. In other words, both his process and his results need to change.
Now, let’s say the Mets made this deal tomorrow. Dunn wouldn’t have to play left field, a spot where he costs his teams plenty of runs while blocking the Mets from seeing what players like Lucas Duda can do. Dunn can instead play first base, where there’s every chance Ike Davis won’t be playing for at least the rest of 2011. Dunn is a terrible first baseman, but he hurts you less defensively there, and the Mets don’t have another first baseman of the future for that spot. Daniel Murphy should be playing second base anyway, since that’s the position his bat supports- and his defense at second wasn’t bad, either. A Dunn revival would improve the team’s chances in 2011 as well, though that is about the last reason to make such a deal.
If Dunn returns to form, the Mets can choose from several decent options after the 2011 season. Dunn can be dealt at that point to a team in need of a DH, or willing to take the defensive hit. They can keep Dunn at first if Davis’s problem lingers into next season, and microfracture surgery is complicated, so Davis’s healthy return is no sure thing. They can even put him back in left field, if they are unhappy with what they see from Duda.
And if Dunn doesn’t recover, he’s simply an immovable contract with no viable spot in the team’s plans. Well, guess what Jason Bay is right now? An immovable contract (save a deal like bad contract for bad contract) with no viable spot in the team’s plans. Bay is owed $35 million from 2012 on ($16 million in 2012, $16 million in 2013, a $3 million buyout of his 2014 option). Dunn is owed $44 million from 2012 on ($14 million in 2012, $15 million in both 2013 and 2014).
For my money, I’d bet that extra $9 million on Dunn’s underlying numbers. If the Sox will make some concessions to evening out the salaries, or throw a sweetener in like a prospect of some kind, all the better. But from New York’s end, this should happen.