Adam Dunn, one year to another. (Photos by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images, @MDGonzales)
Spring training is usually chock-full of players talking about their condition, mainly because there's nothing else to talk about. Jordan Danks added 15 pounds of muscle, while Gordon Beckham chose a leaner route. Chris Sale said he gained 20 pounds and lost it, perhaps in the pool.
None of these guys were under any particular pressure to change their physical shape, except maybe Herm -- the healthier he is, the healthier everybody is. Still, they're telling people about it, because it's something that happened when nothing else has.
When it comes to Adam Dunn, though, the court of public opinion decided that his entire approach to baseball living needed a complete overhaul. Somehow, Dunn's doing the least talking of anybody.
So far, Dunn has downplayed everything he might have done or could be doing to redeem himself. He showed up looking slimmer at SoxFest, but didn't stress it. The only number that came up was Chuck Garfien's rumor of a 30-pound loss, and that was shot down. He talked about hitting in the offseason, but also made sure to point out that it wasn't exactly a regular activity. He didn't elaborate on his routine beyond mentioning a core-strengthening regimen.
When looking at that side-by-side shot above, Dunn definitely looks different. However, he doesn't sound any different. A sample of quotes:
- "Ah, no, other than I’ll probably be a little better in BP than normal. Other than that, I don’t know." (link)
- "It doesn’t matter to me if I go out and hit .500 with 20 home runs in the spring. It probably won’t translate over to the season."
- "I kind of know how teams are going to try to approach me, but again last year was such a ‘whatever,’ I’m sure I’m going to have to relearn it all over again." (link)
Is this a good or bad thing? I have no earthly idea. I mean, he could roll into Camelback Ranch talking about a 40-homer season at every turn, but would look borderline delusional. He has to regain respect by doing, not talking, so any quotes at this juncture have to be taken with a grain of salt.
But then I remember Brett Ballantini taking notice of the way Dunn seemingly talked himself out of a good April before it began:
I’ve said it before, but tracing back to the first day of spring training, Dunn was destined to struggle. The Big Donkey and I had many conversations in March, but it was the first one that still sticks out today. We spoke at length about his poor start (and finish) with the Washington Nationals in 2010, and Dunn had pretty well accepted the fact that he would start slowly in Chicago as well — if he got off to a strong start, I’ll paraphrase, look out, because Dunn thinks he might hit .400.
On Opening Day in Cleveland, having bothered to look up Dunn’s starts stretching before 2010 in light of his immutably ugly Cactus League performance, I was surprised to see that March/April was the strongest season segment of any in Dunn’s career — still standing at a .943 OPS for his career even after a horrendous April 2011. When I strolled up to him at Progressive Field on April Fools’ Day to give him that good news — no worries, Adam, you don’t have to start slow — the genial slugger spilled his Dr. Pepper in surprise.
Alas my news came too late, as Dunn had already resolved himself to a slow start, a dangerous drop that would see him slip so deep he cannot climb back to the surface this season. And now, noting body language and the absolute inability to pull out of the swoon, it’s a legitimate question whether, at 31, Dunn can ever climb back out of the morass that 2011 has become.
Brett wrote that in August. A fortnight ago, Ozzie Guillen said Greg Walker saw a fatal flaw in Dunn's approach during spring training. Maybe Dunn was passing off fatalism as self-deprecating humor or modesty.
Then again, Dunn looked every bit the slugger the Sox signed up for in the four games before the appendectomy. He was back in the lineup before anybody expected it, and his return seemed premature, especially since Guillen justified playing Dunn at the time by pointing to his salary, and not his recovery. Kenny Williams regretted allowing Dunn to be rushed back, but Dunn dismissed all discussion of the surgery as a contributor to his free fall.
There's one thing Dunn said this spring that doesn't quite fit in with the rest. It was in reference to Beckham's vow to have more fun on the field:
"That's not probably my problem," said Dunn of playing looser. "I have enough fun for at least 23 of us. I'll still do that."
This sounds like a bald-faced lie. Beyond that, it really shows the difference between Beckham and Dunn.
Beckham has spent the last two seasons trying to get people behind him. Prior to the 2011 season, he hit the batting cage and weight room hard in an effort to overcome his battered hand. Then that didn't work, and so he said he went too far in the other direction, getting too "heavy and puffy." And he also couldn't eat right. And he was thinking about his swing too much to actually swing right. But now he's solved the weight thing. And he's making honey badger t-shirts. And he's getting the straight dope from his dad.
OK, Beckham talks a lot. And for all we know, it could end up meaning nothing. But man, he wants people to know that he cares. He probably cares too much, but that's at least understandable, if not productive.
Dunn doesn't prioritize presentation. That's always been his thing, but it's fascinating to watch him maintain that front after a catastrophic season. He refused to take advantage of the limited cover the appendectomy would have provided. If his physical appearance is any indication, he's probably worked harder this offseason than in any other. But he's not selling it. He's not placing any emphasis on it, actually.
So far, the only thing he has played up is the amount of fun he has on the field at all times -- when "fun" is the last word anybody would equate with the Dunn era in Chicago. I'd call it strange campaign, but from what I know of Dunn's past, he simply hasn't seemed concerned about positioning himself in any certain light. I wouldn't read too much into it either way, because if Dunn lost his bat speed, it makes everything else moot.
In Mark Gonzales' mailbag, he includes a few additional thoughts about Dunn.
One could be true:
The idea of playing Dunn more in the field was raised by a veteran National League scout who believe Dunn would get back to a routine that he was more familiar with in the NL. He thought it would work, especially since Konerko is getting older and could use more of a break as a DH.
One I hope isn't true:
I think Robin will be as patient as Ozzie was.
And one isn't true:
Yes, but Dunn has full no-trade rights and Rios has limited no-trade rights.
Dunn's no-trade rights are also limited to a list of teams.