Washington Nationals: Adam Eaton’s next chapter

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DENVER, CO - APRIL 27: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals is walked in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 27, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 27: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals is walked in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 27, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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In his second year with the Washington Nationals, expect Adam Eaton’s return to spark the club. In a new outfield spot, he should shine.

The Washington Nationals welcome the return of Adam Eaton in 2018. The outfielder tore an ACL at the end of April at home versus the New York Mets, crimping the most powerful offense in Nats history.

Much was expected from Eaton in Washington. A controversial trade with the Chicago White Sox filled a gaping hole in centerfield allowing Trea Turner to field his natural position at short. For a month, it worked.

Primarily a leadoff hitter, Eaton readjusted well to the National League and flashed speed. His slash line of .297/.393/.462 over 23 games excited fans. Before his injury, he legged out seven doubles, a triple while smashing two homers. “Spanky” and Washington fell in love.

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A year later, Eaton’s return is vital for the Nats. However, in 2018, his assumed role is replacing Jayson Werth in left. Michael Taylor filled in so well after Eaton’s injury, he has earned the centerfielder job with his defense, speed and power.

Remember, Eaton has four years left on a friendly contract with the last two years at DC’s option. He plans on being a fixture for a while and a position change adds to his value. He is stronger as a corner outfielder than at center.

A look at his d-WAR says he cost the White Sox a win with his glove in 2015, -1.1, and the Nats a half-win last year in center. But, as a right fielder in 2016, his defense rated a 1.7 in right. If you understand how that works, he added two wins for Chicago solely on defense.

With Bryce Harper cemented in right, an Eaton shift to left gives the Nats outstanding defense in all three outfield spots. The trio of Eaton, Taylor and Harper have great range and decent arms. Eaton is an upgrade over the mish-mash of Werth, Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind from 2017.

Yes, the Nats are stronger already than they were in 2017.

Where Eaton can help most is at the top of the lineup again. Whether he leads off, or helps Turner set the table for the bigger hitters at the two-hole, his return gives the Nats offense better consistency. Although the long ball is exciting, Washington’s transition to manufacturing runs on the base paths is critical to advancing in the playoffs.

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Which is why the Nats traded for Eaton in the first place. They needed a spark plug at the top of the order for October. In 2018, that might be the missing ingredient.

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