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Extensions near for Dunn and Willingham?

Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported that the Washington Nationals may attempt to sign slugging first-baseman Adam Dunn to a contract extension before the Jul. 31 trade deadline.

“Heard this: The Nationals may attempt to complete talks with Adam Dunn in the next eight days, and if they can’t do it, they’ll move him.”

Dunn, 30, will be a free agent at the end of the season if the Nationals do not give him an extension. In 95 games this season Dunn has hit 23 homers while batting .278/.368/.565, and is expected to seek a large contract if he hits free agency. As a result, he has been considered the hottest target of the trade deadline as teams in competition are looking for a premium bat to add down the stretch.

The Nationals other top bat that has been thrown around in trade conversation, Josh Willingham, has not been approached about a contract extension beyond 2010 according to the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore. Willingham, 31, is arbitration eligible next season, which means the club can still maintain control over the outfielder for another year. However, with Willingham batting .272/.401/.480, the club will likely have to give him a raise to keep him.

Analysis:

It has been reported that the Nationals are demanding a kings ransom in return for Dunn. Dunn currently ranks in the top 10 in RBI with 61, second in homers with 23, and third in OPS with a .933 mark. However it has appeared that teams have not been willing to give up a significant part of their future for a player that they will only have guaranteed control over for several months. As a result, many have speculated that the club would hold onto the slugger and try to sign him after the season.

This changes things. This report, if true, indicates that the Nationals are in effect giving themselves an eight day deadline to decide whether or not to trade Dunn, or make him part of their future.

At 30, Dunn’s value as a long term investment is questionable. His defense, while improved this season, has been dreadfully awful throughout his career and should only get worse as he ages. His production is likely to drop off faster than other players because of his size, and his high strikeout total means that the ball is put into play very infrequently on what is already a poor hitting club.

Mike Rizzo has to decide whether or not the investment on Dunn will pay off not just next year, but three-to-four years down the road. In 2014 will Adam Dunn still be a viable defensive first baseman and clean-up hitter behind Ryan Zimmerman? Will he be worth the $12+ million a year he is expected to make?

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