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What should the Tigers pay for Adam Dunn?

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Continuing our exercise of trying to figure out what different players are worth to the Tigers and where they get the most bang for the buck, we'll take a look at Adam Dunn today . Strike while the iron's hot, right? He could be a Tiger by the time you read this, unless you're the early riser type, anyway.

The 31-year-old Dunn has a mighty powerful stroke, one that hit 38 or more home runs every season since 2004. He's also the kind of guy who is more than happy to take the free base the pitcher is giving him and has a lifetime walk rate of 16 percent.

Now we're not without some concerns: notably he's hit in the National League his whole life and 2010 was a bit of a down year for him, especially when you look at his on-base percentage. That is a concern doubly so since his position has to be "designated hitter" because his fielding is quite a negative. Then again the less time he spends in the field, the better for everyone. On top of all that, he strikes out a lot, which shouldn't bother you but bothers some.

Dave Cameron wrote at Fangraphs:

Dunn turns 31 this winter, and there are some pretty scary comparable players that have had their careers veer over the cliff after their 30th birthday. Richie Sexson posted a .385 wOBA at age 30, then went .355, .305, .314, out of baseball. Mo Vaughn put up a .421 wOBA at age 30, then went .370, .369, .349, .291, out of baseball. These guys were paid handsomely for a skillset that is very similar to Dunn’s, and teams have become a bit nervous about giving long term deals to guys with old player skills.

He also noted that it doesn't necessarily follow there will be a dropoff. But one is possible.

When you add it all up, what you get is that Adam Dunn is not worth to a team nearly what he probably thinks he should be worth. That makes signing him a bit stickier of a situation. He can certainly make your baseball team better but if he gets paid what he'd like it's not going to be a team-friendly deal, especially so when you consider the forfeited first-round draft pick required to sign him.

So what should he be paid? Again, difficult question because we have to project a league change and all that other stuff. For one, we should expect a decrease in switching leagues. I wouldn't make it a big decrease, but a small one is pretty reasonable. Second, he's aged a year. So again you'd expect a decrease. What about coming off his worst career season? No different than coming off a career high season. You gotta regress toward the mean. So what you get is forces fighting each other on this one. It's a hard projection.

The Bill James projection at Fangraphs (which don't project a move to the AL, of course) have him at .247 / .373 / .511. I'd assume a dropoff in the future years. But let's call his value as a batter about 3.1 WAR and adjust that up to about 3.3 for his playing time minus the fact he has to be a designated hitter. (Thank goodness for that. If he's a fielder he just destroys his own value he's so bad). At 4 to 4.5 million per win, he's worth about $12-14 million. I'll call it 12 because I think if anything I'd rather be on the lesser side of the estimate. Over four years, I'd value him at about $44 million.

Of course, you should include the fact a team will give up a first-round draft pick, valued at about $4 million.

The longer the contract, the more frightened I am by the prospect of signing him. Anything above four years and just walk away. Ideally, he'd accept a 2 or 3 year contract. Practically speaking, he won't. So why don't we call the maximum deal I'd like to see the Tigers do 4 years, 40 million. Three years, $33 million would probably overpaying there a bit, but I'd accept it.

But Dunn should not be the Tigers' priority. Their No. 1 need right now when it comes to position players is not DH, it's the corner outfield. Their DH may not be pretty, but they can probably put together something near league average. Their total lack of a starting corner outfielder is a giant hole that should be filled first. As well, they can probably find more value with Victor Martinez taking up time at catcher. If the two are going to go for about the same price, I'd rather have Martinez. Vladamir Guerrero, too, is not going to hit as well as Dunn but he will probably not come at the same $10M+ per year cost. He wants a multi-year deal but will likely accept less time and money. Finding Jim Thome and a corner outfielder wouldn't break my heart either.

So yeah, Dunn can hit the ball well and could definitely provide middle-of-the-order pop. I just think there are higher priorities to be explored first. Still it's not like it's a disaster if they're able to sign him to one of the contracts I laid out above.