Adam Eaton’s trade to the Washington Nationals is a gambit. Could it lead to a long-coveted championship, or will it cause a house cleaning?
Most of the reaction is not good.
For five years of the defensively talented Eaton, the Nats parted with their top two pitching prospects in Giolito and Lopez. Dunning is a first-round selection from this summer’s MLB Draft. After missing out on Chris Sale, the price was steep.
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Yes, this is mostly the same package that nearly landed Sale until the Boston Red Sox opened the floodgates with Yoan Moncada paid in full. Also, this is most of the package the Nationals had on the table for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
After trying to rush a deal last week to land McCutchen, talks fell away at the Winter Meetings until Sale went to Boston. Instead of being upset the White Sox dared the Red Sox, in public, to make a better offer for Sale, Chicago and Washington hammered out a deal that sent fan bases reeling.
Here is why the Nats angered their fans to make a deal. They needed the financial wiggle room. If both team options trigger, Eaton will take in $38 million over the next five years. At 28, his pure prime. Bryce Harper, when he hits free agency, commands a price of $40 million for one season.
McCutchen, who everyone thought was coming last week, will earn $28.5 over the next two seasons at a minimum. Trading for Eaton gives the Nationals the flexibility to add payroll. Whether it is for a closer or a catcher, they can buy the hole they need to fill.
In return, the kids go to Chicago. Built to ensure a continued dominance in the starting rotation, the Nationals reversed course and think they can win it all in 2017.
A gamble, for sure. But, Eaton fills a huge hole. We knew before 2016 ended Danny Espinosa was no longer the starting shortstop. As Trea Turner turned heads with his bat, there was no way he would enter his first full season as an outfielder. From their public wooing of McCutchen to trading for Eaton. The priority was the outfield.
As Mike Rizzo makes the bold move of going all-in and building a young team for the future. Eaton was the best player on the board not named Dexter Fowler. He is also millions cheaper than Fowler or McCutchen. For their public relations nightmare, the Nats get a player who reaches base at a .360 clip the last three years and is an above-average corner outfielder.
With everything said about the payroll, remember the Nationals carry the biggest number in the National League East. In a small-market fanwise, the Nationals are spending as a big-market team.
Mortgaging the future to win now is risky. So is Harper being on the team by the end of 2018. Three failed playoff trips in five years leaves frustration.
It may cost Rizzo his job, but you cannot say he did not try. In two years, we can say how the deal grades.
But, not today.