Controversial ballplayers usually earn that description through conduct unbecoming to some. By being cocky or crude, lazy or unlawful. Adam Dunn is none of those things.
Somehow, though, he achieves the same effect by striking out in historic bundles, by walking with a similar persistence, and by lurching after fly balls as though he's carrying Ryan Freel on his back. He does it by killing a rally one inning and polluting the Ohio River later in the game.
Dunn is, all in all, a fascinating study. To the old-school purist who views the game with a reverence for the subtle and situational, he is a power-hitting eyesore. To the new-school numbers-cruncher who measures the sport with clusters of capital letters (OPS, RC, VORP, ETC.), the Reds' left fielder is a sabermetric superstar. It comes down, basically, to whether you trust your instincts or your slide rule, with shades of interpretation complicating both accounts.
Dunn's corner would argue that the big fellow's homers and on-base percentage (greatly abetted by his penchant for bases on balls) produce quantities of runs, driven in and scored, that simply cannot be dismissed or easily replaced, and that those impressive totals clearly dwarf any deficiencies he may demonstrate in the outfield.
The other side would counter that the former quarterback is not paid an eight-figure salary to leave runners on base or let somebody else knock them in; that if a strikeout is no different than any other kind of out, why is such a premium placed on relief pitchers who can pile them up?; that, by falling short on the finer points, Dunn fails to make his teammates better, or even as useful as they might be; that his M.O. is the very antithesis of what works so well for, say, the Los Angeles Angels; that, because his nature is simply not hell-for-leather, he does little in the way of leading or inspiring his ballclub; that the long-ball approach has not served the Reds well in his seven Cincinnati seasons, each of which has been a losing one.
Further muddling all of these machinations is the matter of Dunn's contract, and how it plays into the Reds' payroll. At $2 million, Dunn would be one of baseball's best bargains. At $6 million, he would be one of the better values in the National League. At $10.5 million, which is what he's making this year, he provides sufficient bang for the bucks. At $13 million, which is what he'll be paid next year if the Reds exercise their option on his contract, the debates will rage.
Is it the best use of small-market money? And if not, should Dunn be traded by Tuesday?
The latter question has consumed the rumor mongers for a couple months now. Tuesday, of course, marks the trade deadline. Any team making an exchange for Dunn would have him only for the rest of the season - after which he would become a free agent - unless first agreeing to longer terms with the jocular Texan.
That complication has led a lot of folks to submit that Cincinnati would be better off dealing Dunn during the offseason, which is not particularly feasible. If the Reds were to sign him first, they would be prohibited from trading the slugger without his unlikely consent. If they were to not sign him, he would become a free agent.
And so, what to do? There's little doubt that, in spite of their short-term resurgence under Pete Mackanin, the Reds remain in a trading mode. There's little doubt that Dunn has been discussed with any number of clubs, the pros and cons convoluted by all of the above and more.
A few weeks ago, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky stated that he'll have a better idea of what to do after July 29, when it's more evident whether the club should be buyers or sellers or either. Well, it's evident, all right. Losing Sunday, for the second time in three weekend games against Chicago, made certain of that. The Reds now trail Lou Piniella's team by 11½ . And the Cubs are in second place.
"There's things in the works," Mackanin said. "I'd like to know what the complexion of the team is going to be when this is all over and said and done. I know Wayne Krivsky is working extremely hard to make the best deal he can, whether it's selling off some people we have and getting prospects or whether it's getting somebody who can play at the major-league level and contribute to our season."
The cold fact is that, whether or not Dunn remains on the roster for the rest of the Reds' season, it will end exactly two months from today. And whether or not he remains, it will be a controversial move.
What a trade of Dunn would undoubtedly do is make-over the very composition of the ballclub, which can be broken down this way: Cincinnati stands second in the league in home runs, sixth in runs scored, 15th in runs surrendered and 15th in winning percentage.
"I wouldn't say that it's by design that the team is tilted towards power," the skipper observed. "But I think because of the ballpark, you get more home runs than other teams in different ballparks. I'd like to have a little bit of everything. I'm not going to put my signature on that this is a team that relies on power. We've scored a lot of runs due to our power, but I don't think it was by design. I think that just happened.
"I like to have every ingredient. You look at the Cubs - they've got power, they've got speed. They've got some guys who can manufacture runs. If you follow the blueprint that's been set for 120 years, it works. Pitching and defense, defense up the middle, speed at the top of the order, power in the middle, bat-handlers at the bottom. That works. You look at Hatteberg, who gives you a professional at-bat. You look at Keppinger - just a solid approach to being a professional major-league hitter. And I certainly would like to have more like that."
Which brings us back to Dunn. My suggestion, for what it's worth, is do the deed.
With all respect to what Mackanin has accomplished, and to whoever the manager might be next year, the Reds still require a chemical change of the purposeful sort. The only way to effect that change is by swapping out Dunn or Ken Griffey Jr. (who calls up a whole different set of nuances), provided that the players arriving in return, and those acquired with the money salvaged, are capable of contributing significantly toward a pennant drive in 2008.
And who, exactly, would those players be? Is anyone of that description even available in the Dunn market?
That's for Krivsky to decide, and for everyone else to argue about, endlessly.