It's really up to the Reds to decide their direction.
By the way, a month after the Reds dumped Wayne Krivsky and moved Walt Jocketty into the general manager's office, do you notice the difference? The same players are on the ball club, the same players aren't, and the club, 9-12 before Jocketty, is 14-16 with him.
The only true difference is that we have no idea about the club's intentions. With Krivsky, we knew they were rebuilding, even if the ownership didn't. With Jocketty, we're still waiting to see.
The best guess right now is that Jocketty also is waiting to see. The next moves for this club will be connected to front office perception concerning its chances this year, and that matter remains open. Although the Reds carried losing records for 41 straight days at the close of business on May 25, they also remained within 6 1/2 games of the NL Central lead.
If the Reds make a move up the standings in the next six weeks, they have to keep Dunn, especially after club owner Bob Castellini has made such a passionate statement about winning now when he fired Krivsky. But they should keep Dunn anyway.
Hitters like Dunn don't come along all that often. If he's not an elite hitter in the class of Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez, the natural comparisons with past sluggers like Rob Deer and Dave Kingman also are unavailing.
At 28, Dunn already has more career homers (251) than Deer (230), and Kingman was an out maker, which Dunn certainly isn't.
Even in the two weakest areas of his game, his left field defense and his strikeouts, Dunn is improving this year. He'll still strike out about 125 times and he'll have his bad days in the field, but Reds fans who fixate on those flaws are missing a pretty good hitter.
The defense still can improve in time. As far as the strikeouts, Dunn produces well more than enough to make up for it. There's so much to like about him as a hitter that it's hard to rationalize the Reds letting him walk as a free agent after this season.
Nobody likes to see a lot of strikeouts, but it's part of Dunn's game and they're not going away. Because he's 6-foot-6, he has a big strike zone and there's a lot of room in there for pitchers to get him out. And he runs deep counts looking for pitches he can rip. He's also among the league leaders in walks every year, which is quite an achievement considering the size of his strike zone.
One also wants to cut Dunn slack on the strikeouts because he almost never grounds into double plays. From the day he came up in 2001, Dunn has grounded into exactly 52 double plays. Pujols, who also is 28, has grounded into 145 double plays.
You can write Dunn down every year for 40 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. He plays every day. One never hears about him begging out of the lineup against a tough left hander. You don't just send players like this packing, nor do you pretend to a sliver of a chance that you'll receive equal value in a trade.
It's true that Dunn is an expensive player to keep, but he's still worth keeping because his skills aren't going to diminish any time soon. He came to the major leagues with old player skills like home run power and strike zone judgement but without young player skills like foot speed. If the Reds lock up Dunn for another five years, they can expect substantially the same player because his skills won't decline.
Though discussion about whether the Reds should trade Dunn often is paired with talk about whether they should trade Junior Griffey, their circumstances aren't even approximately the same. Griffey is 38, his game is clearly on the down side and trading him to a contender is the decent act if the Reds don't climb into the race. Plus it's going to cost the Reds another $4 million to keep Griffey through the season, because that's the fee for buying out his $16.5 million option in 2009.
Dunn is not, never was and never will be the player Griffey was at 28, and there's certainly no shame in that. But Dunn at 32 will be the same guy as Dunn at 28, which means Dunn at 32 stands to be more productive than Griffey at 32. All of that is a long-winded way of saying that Dunn is worth the commitment of a long-term contract, unlike Griffey at this point.
The Reds are a last-place club at the moment, though they're not a terrible last-place club without a prayer. Indeed, as last-place clubs go, they're pretty well positioned. They just have a few problems. Most obviously, the only pitchers they can count on right now are Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez and Coco Cordero.
But they're also in a real bad way when it comes to scoring runs. They went through a five-game stretch last week when they scored just 10 times. They won't win like that even if their pitching is good.
Only 10 clubs in the major leagues scored fewer runs than the Reds' 225 through May 25. And you certainly can't blame that on Dunn, who led the Reds in homers (13) and RBI (32) while ranking second in runs scored (28).
Put a little differently, the Reds need more hitters like Dunn, not fewer. But you can't just go shopping for hitters like Dunn, because they don't come around every day. The Reds should hang on to the one they have.
Contact Bill Peterson: firstname.lastname@example.org