Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sox save seven figures on Adam Dunn after losing eight figures

Posted By on 09.03.14 at 10:30 AM

Against the Tigers on Saturday, Adam Dunn gave Jose Abreus back a high-ten as he made sure he didnt miss the plate after hitting his final homer as a White Sox.
  • AP Photo/Paul Beaty
  • Against the Tigers on Saturday, Adam Dunn gave Jose Abreu's back a high-ten as he made sure he didn't miss the plate after hitting his final homer as a White Sox.
If you just got back to town after the Labor Day weekend, you may have noticed something missing: Adam Dunn.

Dunn had of course been missing ever since he got to Chicago four seasons ago. When he joined the White Sox in December 2010, no player in the team's 110-year history had ever fanned more than 175 times in a single season. That ignominious club record had been set by Dave Nicholson in 1963. Future Sox players who pursue the club's season whiff mark now will have to climb past Dunn's 177 Ks in 2011, and his 189 Ks in 2013, and his remarkable 222 Ks in 2012—one fewer than the all-time major-league record, set by Mark Reynolds in 2009.

Limited playing time this year kept Dunn's strikeouts to only 132. And now, four seasons and 720 whiffs after he arrived in Chicago, Dunn has fanned for the last time as a south-sider: he was traded Sunday to Oakland. No word on whether the Sox will be retiring his letter.

For the 34-year-old Dunn, the Sox got Nolan Sanburn, a 23-year-old minor-league pitcher. General manager Rick Hahn said Sanburn was a "young power arm with some good pitchability," but the Sox would have taken a frayed elbow for Dunn; it was mainly an addition by subtraction deal.

Dunn is a one-tool player. He had a few escapades in the field here, but mostly DH'd. In his four seasons he swiped four bases in eight tries. Infields shifted radically when he came to the plate, but he wasn't the kind of batter who could be tricked into trying to hit it where they weren't; he just kept yanking it to the right side. His average for the Sox, .201, bested Bob Uecker's career average by a point. He drew a lot of walks and was very amiable.

The Sox paid him to hit homers, of course, and he clouted 106. They cost the team just over a half-million bucks apiece. They might have been worth it if not for all those Ks. When Sox fans remember Dunn, they won't picture him trotting around the bases, but trudging politely back to the dugout, bat in hand.

The A's reportedly will have to pay the last $1.2 million of his four-year, $56 million contract that's expiring this season. "We are saving seven figures," Hahn crowed. But that's after wasting eight figures: considering the $54.8 million the Sox paid Dunn, the savings is barely a foul tip.

In Dunns four seasons with the White Sox, the money was blowing out.
  • Johnny Sampson
  • In Dunn's four seasons with the White Sox, the money was blowing out.

I was excited when the Sox signed Dunn in December of 2010. But then a colleague at the Reader, a Reds fan who'd been frustrated by Dunn's eight seasons in Cincinnati, warned me that the big slugger would disappoint. Besides the perpetual strikeouts, he tended to connect in lopsided games when the homers mattered little, the colleague said. Troubling, too, was the fact that in Dunn's ten seasons, his teams had never made the playoffs.

In hindsight, it's easy to blame Kenny Williams, the G.M. who signed Dunn. At the time, though, adding Dunn to Paul Konerko and Alex Rios in the heart of the order seemed a reasoned gamble. It turned out to be subtraction by addition, however: ​Dunn put his Sox teammates on his broad back and carried them downhill. The south-siders were 288-334 during his tenure.

In his first game with the Sox, Dunn homered, doubled, and knocked in four, as the south-siders won, 15-10, in Cleveland. But that was April Fools' Day. He hit only one more homer the rest of April, and by the end of the month he was batting .160, with 31 whiffs in 75 at bats. Dunn told reporters he wasn't concerned. "I'm taking the good ones and swinging at the bad ones," he said. "But again that's something I have gone through many, many, many, many, many, many, many times in my career."

He just doesn't hit so well when it's cold, I said to myself.

But he didn't hit that season when it was warm either—or when it was wet, dry, windy, calm, sunny, or cloudy. Day or night, home or away. He hit .204 in May, .136 in June, .145 in July, .155 in August, and .128 in September and October, for a grand total of .159. For the Washington Nationals in 2009 and 2010, he'd slugged 38 homers; for the Sox in 2011, he hit 11. Sox fans got a little restless.

His power returned after that: he had 41 homers in 2012, 34 in 2013, and 20 this year. But his average remained anemic, and, with two strikes especially, he kept taking the good ones and swinging at the bad ones. We tracked his whiffing exploits on our Adam Dunn K Watch.

He's now played 1,978 big-league games without making the postseason—he's the leader among active players in that category. Unless the A's fold, he'll finally reach the playoffs this fall, and it'll be interesting to see whether he lifts his new team to glory or goes down swinging and looking. He's said he'll likely retire at year's end.

As he did here, he's started with a bang in Oakland, homering in his first at bat Monday in a win over the Mariners, and driving in a run with a pinch single in a loss yesterday. The White Sox, meantime, are 2-0 in the post-Dunn era, with victories Sunday and last night. ​

When Dunn began his first season on the south side, I wrote that he'd "drive Sox fans nuts" with his all-or-nothing swings. "Time will tell whether Dunn powers the Sox to a pennant or serves as a breezeway in the middle of their lineup," I added.

Time has told. We wish Dunn the best of luck in his last big league adventure.

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