Once Regretful Adam Eaton Trade Now Paying Dividends for Nationals

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Adam Eaton once resembled a player whom the Washington Nationals severely overpaid for in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. A year and a half later, Eaton has made the gamble worthwhile for the Nats, as his production at the plate is paying dividends for their ballclub.

Back at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the Nats were hungry to make a big trade, and they ended up acquiring Eaton. Trading away top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Eaton, the Nats gave up a king’s ransom for a positional upgrade. The thinking was Eaton would provide them with a contact bat who hits for average and plays with grit. He could hit at the top of the order in front of Trea Turner and help form one of the best top-of-the-order punches in the game. Granted he hit .297, the outfielder’s 2017 season was a discouraging period of time for him and the Nats.

In an April 28 matchup with the New York Mets, Eaton tore his ACL on the first base bag and missed the remainder of the season as a result. After playing just 23 games in his debut year with the Nats, general manager Mike Rizzo’s gamble on Eaton began to look even worse. This season has been an entirely different story for the veteran outfielder.

While he missed nearly two months with an ankle injury, Eaton has been present in manager Dave Martinez‘s order on an everyday basis and is producing in a big way. Hitting a team-best .320 and owning a .401 on-base percentage, he’s been able to get on base often and set up the heart of the Nats order. He’s been their most reliable hitter, is hitting for contact, and is a vital element to the current well-being of their offense. With Bryce Harper hitting .216 and Turner not providing the spark at the top of the order he has in years past — in terms of consistently getting on base — the Nats need others to step up, and Eaton has answered the call. Without Eaton, their offense would be deprived of a spark plug and someone hitting for contact on a consistent basis — which has been a collective struggle in the nation’s capital this season.

The @Nationals' trade for @AdamSpankyEaton was once seen to be an awful, short-sighted one. Now, it appears to have paid off for the Nats.Click To Tweet

When the Nats acquired Eaton a year and a half ago, they envisioned him being a vital piece of their order, but not necessarily their number one source of offense. Fast forward to July 2018, and Eaton is a premier bat in their order alongside rookie Juan Soto — who may win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Plus, when you look at the players who were packaged in the trade for Eaton, it’s become a fair deal for both the Nats and White Sox.

While he put together some respectable outings in 2017, Giolito has shown little to no signs of growth in 2018. Currently owning a 6.09 ERA and 1.51 WHIP to go along with just 68 strikeouts in 20 starts, he’s been an unreliable presence in the White Sox rotation. He’s putting way too many runners on base and isn’t posing an overpowering threat when he takes the hill. Once a top-tier prospect, Giolito is failing to live up to expectations. While not to the same extent, Lopez has also not yet emerged as a viable top-of-the-rotation starter.

Last season, Lopez came up from Triple-A late in the year. In eight starts, he recorded a 4.72 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. This season, the righty owns a 4.13 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Now, has his 2018 campaign been abysmal? No, in fact, both he and Giolito could begin to turn a corner in the near future. At the same time, given the high esteem they were held in before being traded to the White Sox, Lopez and Giolito are expected to become top-of-the-rotation forces, and neither righty has shown the ability to provide such a presence yet. In the midst of Lopez and Giolito’s struggles, Dunning is yet to make a Major League appearance.

When the White Sox traded Eaton, they were determined to ship off any veterans with value they could in hopes of acquiring young talent, and that’s exactly what they did by moving Eaton. Even in the righties’ struggles this season, the White Sox made the right call pulling the trigger on a deal with the Nats. Based on the talent and potential the arms they acquired still possess, they could one day become staples in their rotation. There was no doubt from the moment the trade was made that the White Sox won the deal, but that was working under the assumption that Eaton wouldn’t be this important to the Nats’ lineup, as well as Giolito and Lopez prospering.

Granted Eaton’s offensive production doesn’t mean the Nats won the trade, their end of the bargain is becoming justifiable for the haul Rizzo surrendered; a once abysmal trade for the outfielder has become a more reasonable transaction for the Nats.

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