Another day, another big-dollar signing, and another name erased from the Rangers' whiteboard. Two years after setting his open-market asking price at four years and $56 million and ultimately coming away with only two years and $20 million, Adam Dunn finally secured the former sum in a deal that renders him White Sox club property through the 2014 season. Texas seemed to be on the periphery of the Dunn discussions as a (rightfully) interested but distracted party, with his final price tag and extreme defensive weaknesses probably helping to soften the blow of watching another quality hitter vanish from the free-agent marketplace.
And "hitter" should be thoroughly emphasized here, because it suddenly occurs to me that both Dunn and Victor Martinez (whom the Rangers were said to have seriously pursued before he inked his four-year, $52 million deal with Detroit) are doing something I'm not sure we've ever seen before -- that is, banking over $100 million in guaranteed money between them over a four-year span, and yet at the same time possibly logging the majority of their games played at the designated hitter spot. Dunn's role hasn't yet been clarified (there's some thought that he'll receive some work at first base, though he's far better suited as an everyday DH), but the word on Martinez is that he'll serve as the Tigers' primary DH and catch anywhere from 2-3 times a week.
You can classify this as pure coincidence or attempt to extract something of actual meaning from it, but the one thing we can be sure of is that this is not a common occurrence. In the last five years, I could only find one other free-agent player with such glaring defensive problems who pulled down a contract worth at least $50 million: Carlos Lee, Houston's $100 million mistake of the 2006-07 off-season. It's now four years later, the defensive revolution has swept through baseball and UZR is slowly becoming as well-known as OPS ... and yet, the money continues to line the pockets of no-defense players, or at the very least players whose fielding ability is compromised to the point that they're forced to abandon the playing field. Why?
It's simple, actually -- so simple, and yet so easily forgettable at times. At various points over the last several years, I've voiced my disapproval of the defense of Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Vladimir Guerrero (ugh) and others, but the thing you have to remember when you're panning weak-fielding players is that this flaw can almost always be overlooked if the bat is good enough. The amount of attention paid by the typical fan to the mainstream defensive metrics has skyrocketed over the last several years, and more than once I've distinctly felt that the pendulum had swung too far, too fast. Defense was dramatically undervalued for years relative to offense, but in no way does that mean the two are incapable of swapping places -- my overriding point being that if you're going to evaluate a player, you have to take every component of his overall value into account. Don't zero in on a single component and miss the big picture, as I've done myself on a few occasions.
As far as the Dunn contract itself, I guess it is what it is -- Chicago brings his massive power numbers into a hitter's haven, and will benefit greatly in the short term, and will come to regret the deal if his decline phase kicks in sharply and suddenly after a couple of years. This is the kind of deal that is heavily context-dependent, as the White Sox had several lineup holes in urgent need of remedy and plenty of money to spend; in the Rangers' case, the hole is far less significant, and inking Dunn now probably would have had some impact on the way they went about their still-unresolved pursuit of Cliff Lee. I'm assuming Dunn will rake lots of home runs in that south-side bandbox, generally make life unhappy for AL Central pitchers, and maybe compel J.P. Ricciardi to say something stupid again.