But then the winter came, and the offers started pouring in. Except for the incumbent Nationals, who offered just enough to make sure Dunn would go, all the offers were from the American League. Interested teams besides the White Sox were the Tigers, Orioles, A's and Rangers, and no one else from the National League.
He loved the NL, but unfortunately, it didn't love him back quite so much. He loved his new mitt. But everyone else wanted him to discard it.
This is why Dunn is finally in the American League, the place that made sense for him from the start. He is now mostly a designated hitter, what some scouts might call his natural position. He seems very happy with the White Sox. He is finally with a contender, and as Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune first noted, he's never been on a team that won more than 82 games.
"I figure this is my time to win. That pretty much eliminated a lot of the teams I could have gone to,'' Dunn said. "This is a complete team. Hopefully, I won't screw it up.''
It's doubtful that he will. Dunn, 31, seems like a perfect fit as Chicago's DH after consecutive seasons of 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38 and 38 home runs -- an astoundingly consistent record for slugging that may be unmatched in baseball history. He had 103 RBIs and hit .260 last year to go with the 38 dingers.
He is still getting used to the idea of being a part-time player, although he's the second richest part-time player ever after signing a four-year, $56 million contract to be a hitter. It is the second largest contract ever given to a DH, a million less than the $57 million deal for Cleveland's Travis Hafner, also negotiated by Dunn's agents, Legacy Sports. Dunn actually seems thrilled, though he still has a smidgen of doubt about being a DH, though he probably shouldn't, as he has a career .1035 OPS as a designated hitter in a limited sampling only 59 career at-bats as a DH.
"I don't like to be in the clubhouse. I don't like to be on the bench,'' Dunn said the other day while sitting in the White Sox clubhouse. "I don't think (DHing) will be all that big an adjustment. Then again, it could be the biggest ever.''
Paul Konerko, the White Sox team leader, is back at first base after signing a reasonably team-friendly contract worth $37.5 million over three years following a season in which he outhit Dunn. Konerko is there to provide DHing tips to Dunn which he picked up from the great Jim Thome.
"One thing I learned from Jim Thome is you just have to have a routine and stick with it. DHing gives you a lot of time to think about things that are unproductive, so you have to have keep those routines," Konerko said. "DHing can be mentally draining. But Dunn is a pretty easygoing guy. So I think he will do well at it.''
Dunn loves fielding so much that he never would have made the choice to DH (he's taking grounders diligently at first base and will play a little first) on his own. But the choice was basically made for him. The Nationals made him a three-year offer for $36 million, or just enough to ensure he'd go elsewhere. It didn't take a financial genius to realize the American League is where he belonged.
The interest out there was strong. But the choice was a no-brainer for him. Chicago, he said, is his "favorite city.'' And U.S. Cellular Field, though he's never played there oddly enough, is built for him. Though Dunn said you never know how a hitter will do in a particular park.
"See, everyone says Colorado and I can't buy a hit there,'' he said.
Dunn is being too hard on himself, as his .592 slugging percentage at Coors Field would attest. He even nearly kept up his astoundingly consistent 40-homer trend while playing in Nationals Park, which trended toward being an actual National League park in terms of its expanse, though lately has played pretty close to straight up (partly due to Dunn making his home there, no doubt).
Folks are expecting huge things from the big, fun-loving guy. Dunn is listed as 6-6, 285 and he is every bit of that. The good ol' boy was made to hit, and that he has.
"He's a monster,'' Konerko said, affectionately.
He's the same monster with almost the same résumé as two years ago, yet managed to beat his old $20-million contract by nearly three times. Dunn's easygoing nature (he's a big, cuddly guy from Texas) is sometimes misinterpreted as uncaring, and that may have hurt him two years ago as a free agent. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Dunn still wonders whether ex-Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi's comment two years ago that Dunn "didn't really like baseball'' hampered him as a free agent, leading to a market that was empty beyond Washington's team-favoring offer. (Ricciardi, who made the remark on a Toronto radio show, quickly apologized and explained that he didn't really know Dunn. No he doesn't.)
"I haven't changed. My personality, everything, is pretty much the same,'' Dunn said.
What changed in Washington was the leadership. Stan Kasten was Nats president when the offer to Dunn was made, and GM Mike Rizzo is now in charge. Rizzo is placing a greater emphasis on defense, and he never upped the offer to Dunn to anything serious, signaling to Dunn that the AL was a better spot for him. Rizzo eventually signed the better-fielding Adam LaRoche to replace him at first base.
Dunn worked hard on his defense at first base, by all accounts, and while he was improving, he was never going to be a Gold Glover there. Even though he was hoping to stay as the Nationals' first baseman, he has no hard feelings over how things turned out.
"They had a plan. They have a great thing going on over there,'' Dunn said. 'There are a lot of good people in place over there. I had a great time while I was there. It's first class, top to bottom.''
That's a nice sentiment. But he also knows he may have traded in first class for first place.
• The Rockies were disappointed Aaron Cook didn't come to camp in throwing shape. His weak shoulder won't allow him to stat the year in the rotation. Felipe Paulino or Esmil Rogers will replace him..
• The Indians plan to make Jason Donald the third baseman and start power-hitting prospect Lonnie Chisenhall at Triple-A.
• Indians GM Chris Antonetti said that while they were talking to Nick Johnson, nothing was official yet.
• The Mets want Jose Reyes to show he's healthy and won't repeat his uncharacteristic .321 on-base percentage before even considering a contract. But if he does that, he will probably be too expensive for them, anyway. Look for Reyes to be playing elsewhere next year. The Giants would make sense.
• The Cubs and Angels are among teams that look like they could use a bona fide leadoff hitter. Kosuke Fukudome and Macier Izturis will man the spot for those teams, respectively.
• The Angels are painting a rosy picture of Kendry Morales' chances to start the year with the team. But one scout said it "doesn't look like he's moving at all well enough'' yet. He has yet to get in a game. A source called it "very unlikely'' he'd be ready by Opening Day.
• One scout said of Indians' prospect Drew Pomeranz, "He reminds me of Cliff Lee.'' The Indians can only hope.