This is something that has had me scratching my head for some time. Everyone congratulated the Rays this season when they signed Pat the Bat for a "below-market" two year, $16 MM deal, even though Dunn was still available. Let's compare these two players, and see if there was any rhyme or reason to the Rays decision. Of course it is always possible that Dunn did not want to sign with Tampa Bay, but I am not privy to that sort of information.
First off, they are both weak fielders. Burrell has a career UR/150 of -4.4 in LF an Dunn -11.8. However, this does not matter as Burrell has been used exclusively as a DH. Sure it is nice to have the roster flexibility of having your DH able to play in the field, but it is not like Dunn is David Ortiz out there. He is playing in the National League so someone (even if it is the Nationals) believes he is an everyday fielder. Back to my original point; if I am signing a DH I want the guy that is the better hitter, plain and simple.
With that being said, let's see how the two stack up against each other in the batter's box. I am including this year's stats so I do not have to recalculate all of the ratios, but they have both played enough games that this will not have a significant impact on the numbers.
It looks like Dunn outpaces Burrell in every category. He hits more home runs, scores more runs, has a better OBP, better OPS, and while he has less RBI, when you break it down into AB/RBI they are actually pretty much even. The two things that people skewer Dunn on are his low batting average and high strikeout rate. Burrell is almost his peer in these two categories, yes does not receive half the criticism Dunn does. I think it is pretty obvious that Dunn is the superior hitter. He puts up better average stats and also plays in more games, which brings me to my next point
Adam Dunn is the definition of consistent. Not only did he hit exactly 40 HR for four straight years, he only missed 19 games in the five seasons preceding this off-season. Burrell missed 73. While Dunn has played in 117 games so far this year with the Nationals, putting up a .997 OPS in a pitchers park, Burrell has struggled mightily with the Rays, missing 35 games and posting a .699 OPS. If he had enough AB to qualify, this would place him last among AL DH's, even behind David Ortiz.
While the Rays got an apparent great deal on Burrell, they could have had Dunn for only an extra $4 MM over the two years. I know the Rays are not exactly rolling in dough, but I think the difference between Burrell and Dunn would go a long way in shrinking the four games that Tampa finds themselves behind the Rangers. The Rays window of opportunity is now, and if it was indeed the extra money that cost them Dunn, it could turn out to be a big mistake.