Adam Eaton left the White Sox with a trail of mild media dissatisfaction. Based on the way the trade was received in Washington, that also looks like the material underfoot on the track leading him east.
The deal put the Nationals on the defensive for a few reasons. The simplest answer is that they traded three of their top pitchers — one of them the severely hyped Lucas Giolito — for a player who is largely unknown and has no single eye-popping stat. A too-well-rounded skill set makes for difficult marketing sometimes, which is one reason why Eaton didn’t make the All-Star Game last year.
The silliest answer is a three-letter Bryce Harper tweet:
Wow...— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) December 7, 2016
That could mean a lot of different things, but it was followed by a different three letters from a different Nat to Ken Rosenthal:
On other hand, one #Nationals player sent me this text: "WTF?!?!" Team still needs closer. Likely out on big two. Melancon, Davis off board.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2016
Eaton didn’t receive the usual ballplayer welcome -- something like “Welcome to the local nine, sportsman of renown! Colloqualism about working together toward a shared goal!” — until Harper sent a second tweet 18 minutes later. That’s sad, because Eaton usually was the one to organize the online welcome wagon during his time with the Sox.
The first reaction has some counters. Part of Eaton’s unknown is value is legitimate if he’s Dusty Baker’s everyday center fielder. Dave Cameron says Eaton should probably stay in right to preserve his value. On the other side, UZR architect Mitchel Litchman says for cases like Eaton, you should probably round up all his outfield metrics for future projections. He did look better in center part-time last year than he did in 2015. For his part, Eaton says that center field got away from him that year after a couple of misplays, and he’s learned from it (the shoulder injury may have not helped).
As for the subdued-at-best reaction from future teammates, here’s what Chelsea Janes from the Washington Post could relay to her readers:
Now, to the nebulous: Character, clubhouse presence, etc. Former Nationals GM Jim Bowden called Eaton “a me-guy” on MLB Network Radio earlier this week, the type of player who can suffer a loss but “go 4 for 4″ and leave the field happy. Those familiar with Eaton from his time in Chicago provided mixed reviews, some that he was a wonderful guy, others that he rubbed teammates the wrong way on occasion. Eaton was one of the more vocal defenders of Adam and Drake LaRoche during that controversy early in the 2016 season, and has been known to mix up an on-field fight or two — though one of the most prominent came against known hothead Yordano Ventura, starter for the Royals.
Jim Bowden has been slingin’ dookie all over the Nationals’ side of the deal, although he might not be the most reliable source. Setting aside the questionable trade ideas he floats nowadays for ESPN, there’s the skimming scandal that led to his resignation as Washington’s GM, his hilarious lasting recollection of LaRoche, and the “Ralph” stuff. Consider the baggage before reading his full response to the Eaton trade, which includes:
“[Mike Rizzo]’s human,” Bowden said. “That’s what I saw. He made the worst trade I’ve ever witnessed at a winter meetings. Not even close — and I’m an old guy. I’m in my mid-50s. Worst trade I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“So if it plays out that way for Washington, it’s okay,” Bowden said. “Now let me get to this: this trade was horrendous. This was just not even comprehensible.”
At any rate, going back to Janes’ scouting report, split the difference, and he’s a good-enough guy who rubs teammates the wrong way on occasion, and he played well enough to get more spotlight than some would have liked during his days with the Sox. Eaton will get a chance to introduce himself to Nationals fans at their festival this weekend. Based on his work at SoxFests, that should be favorable territory for him.
As for the White Sox’ side of the deal, Lucas Giolito comes to the South Side giving the Chicago Tribune more fodder with which to salvage “humbling.” His first taste of the big leagues was a disaster, but he trusts the talent that made him a top-five prospect entering the season.
"It didn't go as well as I would have liked, obviously," Giolito said. "But (this) is a fresh opportunity and a new start to get up to the big leagues again and contribute. Do everything I can to stay there as well."
"I'm a big guy, I'm 6-foot-6," Giolito said. "Sometimes things get out of whack. I believe that I let it get out of whack too much last year. So this year, with my training program, I've been lifting in the offseason and doing Pilates. I'm trying to make sure I can stay as athletic as possible so I'm able to keep the right delivery more often."
If you believe Keith Law, the Nationals are to blame for a good portion of the “out of whack” part. He called the return for Eaton a huge haul, and explained Giolito’s down year thusly:
What went wrong? The Nationals tried to change his delivery earlier in the season, because sometimes teams just do dumb things. That affected Giolito’s mechanics and command even later into the season. While his velocity was fine -- he hit 96 mph several times, and his median velocity was right around 94 -- he didn’t get ahead in enough counts to get to his curveball and generated only a 6 percent swing-and-miss rate, way below what his stuff should generate. Now that he’s in a new organization, one with a great track record of developing pitchers, Giolito should be able to reset his mechanics and get back to the results he had before 2016. The stuff and athleticism are all still there.
As for what (and who’s) next? Bob Nightengale tipped one possible idea: