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White Sox decision review: The Adam Eaton-Hector Santiago trade

The depth chart felt the absence of a utility pitcher, but an everyday center fielder made the sacrifice worth it

Tom Pennington

Over the course of October, I'm going to take a look back at some of the White Sox's key moves over the previous offseason, mainly because it's easy to sound really smart with a generous helping of hindsight.

Well, that, and to see if the White Sox could have done anything differently, whether it was realistic to expect a different outcome, and whether there's anything to learn heading into this winter.

And we'll start with the first major move of the winter -- the hot three-way action that resulted in Hector Santiago heading to Los Angeles and Adam Eaton making his way to Chicago from Arizona.

What the White Sox hoped: Needing a left-handed hitter, a traffic cop in the outfield and a solution at the top of the order, the Sox thought they found all three in Eaton, who became a change-of-scenery candidate in Arizona after an injury-hampered 2013 and rumors of clubhouse conflict (that Eaton said he didn't know about).

Rick Hahn was able to bring him to Chicago via a three-team deal with the Diamondbacks and Angels on Dec. 10. It didn't come cheap -- the Sox had to hand over the guy who represented the organization's pitching depth, sending fan and organizational favorite Hector Santiago to Anaheim, and kicked in Brandon Jacobs to Arizona as a player to be named later. The Angels then traded Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks for Tyler Skaggs.

In other words:

  • White Sox received: Eaton
  • Diamondbacks received: Trumbo, Jacobs, A.J. Schugel (Los Angeles' PTBNL)
  • Angels received: Santiago, Skaggs

What we said at the time:

Eaton gives the Sox a reasonable shot at improving on De Aza's skills across the board, and for a projectable period of time. If he turned into Brett Gardner, that would be incredible. If he "only" turned into David DeJesus, that would be merely great, because the Sox haven't matriculated a DeJesus-quality player through their system since Joe Crede. Pre-arb DeJesus would be a godsend for this roster, and easily worth Santiago, given the organization's strengths.

What the White Sox received: Eaton basically met his billing in every way but one, hitting .300/.362/.401 and showing no ill platoon splits (higher OPS against righties, but better OBP against lefties) to become one of the league's best leadoff men. He also needed two stints on the DL, so Arizona's concerns about his durability had some merit. The rumblings of discontent about his personality were unfounded in Chicago, however, and when Tony La Russa fired the manager and GM at the end of the season, I guess you could say there were other issues with the organization.

What the White Sox gave up: Santiago lived dangerously in 2013, posting a 3.56 ERA despite walking 4.3 batters per nine innings. Yet he only suffered for his wildness with short outings, as his pitch count tended to pile up early, cutting short some otherwise-effective starts. That inability to find his stuff early also tended to undermine relief appearances, so he had the markings of a 'tweener.

Santiago started the season 0-6 with a 5.19 ERA through his first seven starts in an Angels uniform, surrendering 18 walks and six homers over 34⅓ innings. The Angels sent him to Triple-A during the second half of May, and when he resurfaced on June 10, he started his recovery with six shutout innings against Oakland. Indeed, he'd righted the ship, posting a 2.45 ERA across June, July and August. Regression thwacked him in the form of two disastrous starts in Texas lasting three innings combined.

All in all, 2014  was a step back in most respects for Santiago, but he pitched through the worst and made the postseason for the first time.

2013 CHW 4 9 3.56 34 23 149.0 137 17 72 137 118 4.44 2.8
2014 LAA 6 9 3.75 30 24 127.1 120 15 53 108 97 4.29 0.6

Would the White Sox do it again? Easily. Yes, the pitching-starved White Sox could've used Santiago in any capacity in 2014, but they would be in the same position heading into 2015 -- not knowing if they could count on him walking that tightrope for another season. He averaged fewer innings per start with the Angels (4.9, down from 5.68) even though he cut his walk rate, so all roads may lead to the same place with him. He's a great guy to have around for a number of reasons, but the tangibles and intangibles don't add up to matching an everyday center fielder's value.

Although Eaton missed 39 games, he stayed healthy and productive enough throughout his first season to think he could hang around a while. He reacted rather brusquely to the idea that he needed to pick his spots to tone down his hustle, but he eventually understood what everybody was getting at. Not that that stopped him from running smack into a fence support on a homer four rows deep, but ... hey.

What about the Diamondbacks? The reason the Diamondbacks were willing to trade Eaton is because they had another center fielder ready for a major league role in A.J. Pollock. They weren't wrong to make Pollock a priority, because he hit .302/.353/.498, and both WAR systems say he provided three-plus wins ... and that was just in 75 games.

While Eaton was perceived to be the fragile one, Pollock missed far more time, as a broken hand took away his June, July and August. But when Pollock played, he provided more pop and made better use of his speed (14-for-17), and apparently contributed some tremendous defense in center field.

If the Diamondbacks had to choose between the two, it's hard to say they chose poorly. The question is why they thought they had to make a choice in the first place -- at least at that point in time -- but the White Sox are happy to reap the rewards.