Dunn was a free agent for a long time last winter, eventually signing a two-year contract on February 11 that is paying him $20 million total, and $8 million in 2009. Eleven days later the Braves, who may have had Dion James leading their depth chart at that point, signed Anderson to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. They saved $17.5 million over two seasons, and just $5.5 million in 2009, by filling their left-field hole this way. Dunn has produced 61 batting runs above replacement, or 48 more than Anderson. Forty-eight runs is just shy of five wins in a vacuum, and for a team so desperate for offense, for OBP, and for a middle-of-the-order hitter, Dunn would have been worth even more than that to the Braves, as his plate appearances would have been more valuable than the average player's. Even if it's five wins, those five wins would put the Braves two games behind the Rockies—and four behind the Phillies—with a little more than three weeks to play. Make the minor assumption that one of those five might have come at the Phillies' expense, and it's easy to see the Braves, led by Dunn, making our September a lot more interesting.
Sheehan could make the same point about Bobby Abreu, who was also on the market for a long time this winter and has hit .299/.398/.436 for the Angels with 28 stolen bases thrown in for good measure. (On the other hand, Pat Burrell was also on the market and he's hit .230/.328/.390 for the Rays, so there are no guarantees.) The Braves would almost certainly have recouped the extra money spent on Dunn if he were the difference between a playoff spot and another October watching on TV.
This is going to be an important lesson for Frank Wren going into 2010. Wren's otherwise solid work as the GM has the Braves in a position where they will have very few holes to fill this winter. The Braves will be in the enviable position of having six good starting pitchers report to camp. With Destroyer of Worlds Jason Heyward ticketed for one of the corner outfield spots, Nate McLouth, Ryan Church, and Gregor Blanco manning the other two spots, and Chipper, McCann, Yunel, and the Johnson/Prado combo set in the infield, the only hole will be at first base. The Braves don't need to make a long-term commitment to the spot because they have Freddie Freeman over the horizon. That said, if there is a big bat available for a 1-2 year commitment, Wren would be a fool not to jump at the opportunity. Let's hope that he (or, more precisely, the management that sets the budget) has learned from 2009.