The White Sox’ estate sale continued apace on Wednesday. A day after pulling the football away from Washington by shipping Chris Sale up to Boston for a haul of prospects headlined by Yoan Moncada, Rick Hahn let Nationals GM Mike Rizzo turn rumors into news by acquiring Adam Eaton. All it cost were Rizzo’s three best pitching prospects. Lucas Giolito leads the way, but he’s backed up by Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning in case Giolito’s skeptics are warranted. This is not a lopsided deal, although the volatility involved could make it look like it 10 years from now, one way or another.
With the shock from the Sale trade fading a little, and with another big deal to reinforce the message, some of the embarrassment has faded into optimism. Sure, it’s all leading to a huge step back in 2017, it points to a greater vision than rolling with faith over unfavorable projections. The White Sox are no longer half-assing it.
And they’ve started by getting rid of the redder asses.
Sale’s flare-ups are well covered, but Eaton leaves with three great seasons and various murmurs about his vaguely irritating character. On 670 The Score on Tuesday, Steve Stone talked about the way the clubhouse stands to improve as certain personalities find homes elsewhere. Sale was mentioned by name, which is fair since he led two attempted mutinies against his bosses in 2016. But Dan Bernstein interjected with “Adam Eaton?” and then giggled as Stone tried to talk around it.
Bernstein isn’t alone. We saw David Haugh do the same thing by painting Eaton as a phony in his infamous “fourth outfielder” column. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were warranted. Eaton showed that side a couple times, most notably when he called Drake LaRoche a “leader.” It could’ve been the tip of a sizable iceberg for all I know.
It’s also for all I care. Despite his flaws -- flaws not egregious enough to be addressed directly, it seems -- he was also a consistently excellent performer on a team that had so few of them. He answered every on-field doubt that he brought to Chicago by the end of his tenure.
Would he stay healthy? He played 153 and 157 games in his last two seasons.
Would he perform in a full-time role? He posted on-base percentages of .362, .361 and .362 in his three years as a leadoff man.
Did he have enough arm strength? After skidding way too many of his throws from center field, a move to right finally helped him calibrate his launch angle, as he racked up a league-high 18 assists.
He didn’t steal as many bases as anticipated, but he made up for that deficit by providing way more pop. It’d be hard for any player to duplicate a season as closely as Eaton did last season.
Here you had a player who bucked every stereotype about a position player added by the White Sox — not only did he outpace expectations, but he did so immediately, and he kept improving. On top of that, he made a positive impression on fans, especially kids.
So the conversation often turned to where and when we can’t see him, because beggars have the inalienable right to choose no matter how the saying goes.
I’ll be watching to see how Eaton fares under Dusty Baker in Washington. Baker’s shortcomings as a strategist are well known, but he has a job because he brings a big presence and can roll with strong personalities. Conversely, the White Sox tried to import leadership with Adam LaRoche, and boy did that backfire.
By starting with Sale and Eaton, you can frame it as though the White Sox prioritized purging LaRoche’s sect from the clubhouse. That looks more like a coincidence. Judging from the chatter around Jose Quintana’s trade value, Sale is held in higher esteem by other front offices. The Nationals have been hustling for action -- we know they wanted Sale, and they were also publicly tied to Andrew McCutchen before solving their hole in the outfield with Eaton. With Quintana, Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu, David Robertson and Nate Jones among the expendables, Hahn has an abundant supply of rumor fodder.
But assuming the Sox do finish what they’ve started, it’s worth remembering the cynical reflexes at this point. The post-strike 1990s White Sox teams showed us the hollowness of dwelling on great players for not being great enough, when the focus should be figuring out how supporting players and management can reduce the stress.
That’s why I don’t feel like kicking them out the door. Sale and Eaton both performed well enough to snap ugly slumps for the franchise — the former with first-round picks, the latter with position players — and they played nice with fans all the while. Perhaps they undercut some of their accomplishments by two-facing it off the field, but for a franchise starved for high-echelon talent, there needs to be a sense of scale. Otherwise, fans and media won’t be able to have nice things, because they’ll have lost the ability to recognize them.