Financially speaking, the White Sox didn't pull off an incredible coup by signing Adam Eaton to a five-year, $23.5 million contract extension. His best skills -- OBP and above-average defense at a premium position -- aren't the kinds that are handsomely rewarded in the arbitration process, and his aggressive style of play makes multiple DL stints more realistic than anybody would like.
The Sox have the most to gain on the back end of the deal, because they'll have effectively signed Eaton to a three-year, $28.4 million deal for his first three free-agent years if both options are exercised ... but there's no guarantee he'd get to free agency in full working order. So when you see his contract lumped in with the other enviable contracts on the White Sox payroll...
Abreu locked up through age 32. Eaton 32, Sale 29, Quintana 30. Total cost, if all options exercised: 27 years of control for $214.5M total.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 20, 2015
... I'd put Eaton's behind Jose Abreu, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in terms of surplus value.
In this case, though, there's reason to believe the surplus value extends beyond sheer dollars. Last week, Rick Hahn outlined the general principles behind an early extension offer:
"It's a combination of feeling, one, that the player is a key part to what we have going here and want to make sure we are able to have him longer than the normal six-year control period," Hahn said. "And second, probably almost as important if not more important, is the belief that the guaranteed money wouldn't change the player's approach to their preparation for the game."
Regarding the latter, Eaton doesn't seem like a guy who is wired for strategically letting up. That all-out default setting makes it harder to project his durability and effectiveness beyond that six-year control period Hahn mentions, so it seems somewhat counterproductive here.
But when Hahn says "key part to what we have going on here," that could also include Eaton's ability to connect away from the game. He takes the White Sox core values they've always marketed -- hard labor, endless toil, grinding toward death, etc. -- and injects a kind of infectious enthusiasm into them, which is an impressive feat.
Take the first crop of preseason ads the White Sox released. The club is literally introducing (or reintroducing) key members of the 2015 team. David Robertson and Adam LaRoche receive the usual treatment -- dramatic music, stark lighting and game faces. Eaton's ad has the same aesthetic hallmarks, but get a load of the first line:
"Do you remember how much fun this was?" The White Sox tend to make their brand of baseball look the opposite of an enjoyable pursuit in their ads, but Eaton can work both sides of that line. (I guess that makes his game the equivalent of a mullet -- business in front, party in back -- which, in turn, makes him extra-marketable one night of the year.)
Then there are stories like the one Scott Reifert shared two weeks ago, with Eaton making a 4-year-old fan's year by giving him his bat on the way off the field. Then there's what Eaton said after the signing was announced:
"I want to play more than what that contract's worth. With that being said, we want to win here, and there's money to go elsewhere. We want to win in the long term, in the next three, four, five years, and if I can [take a little less] for those other guys to get some more money and bring some guys in, I think that's key for us. I want to win. That's first and foremost, and not just once."
My reaction to that quote pretty much encapsulates my feelings about the extension. I might downplay the financial impact by questioning how much his contract makes other moves possible at this juncture, but he does a helluva job making it seem like the contract itself is a smaller development in a bigger picture.
Or maybe it's all about the money on all sides and I'm just a big, gullible idiot. That's fine. He's great at selling what the White Sox want to do, and sometimes it's nice to have a ballplayer who makes it easy to ignore what he's making.