It has been over three years since the Nationals pulled off the blockbuster for Adam Eaton. Who won the trade?
The Washington Nationals 2016 season once again ended in disappointment. For the third time in five years, the Nats won the NL East, and for the third time during that span, the team lost in the first round of the playoffs. Washington was in win-now mode and entered the off-season looking to make a splash. Washington was all in on trading for the ace of the Chicago White Sox, Chris Sale. Instead, the team was outbid by the Boston Red Sox.
Not wanting to be outdone, Washington landed a trade for outfielder Adam Eaton from the White Sox. Washington paid a king’s ransom for Eaton, as the team shipped out top prospect Lucas Giolito, as well as prospects Dane Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez. At the time, it was a questionable decision to offer that much for Eaton, who was a decent player but no superstar. Fast forward to now, and Washington has won the World Series while Giolito has become the White Sox’s ace. We took a look at the trade over a year ago and have decided to reopen the conversation.
In three seasons with the Nats, Eaton hit .288, with 95 RBI’s, 22 homers, and an OPS of .802 while swiping 27 bases in 32 attempts. Eaton has accumulated 2.9 WAR with the club. Keep in mind, in his first month with the team in 2017, Eaton tore his ACL and meniscus, which led to him missing the rest of the year. In 2018 he was slow to recover to form and suffered another injury in the form of a small tear in the cartilage in his ankle.
In 2019, Eaton was finally returning to form and was pivotal in the playoffs. He started slow but was a force in the World Series. Against the Astros, Eaton hit .320, with two homers, six RBIs, and an OPS of .993. Down 3-2 in the series and 2-1 in-game six, Eaton tied the game with a solo shot in the fifth against Justin Verlander. Eaton continually came in clutch throughout the team’s World Series run.
While he never was able to build on his 6.2 win (WAR) season in 2016, Eaton has become a fixture in the lineup, providing depth and the ability to constantly work the count. His defense has taken a step back due to his injuries, but he is still a threat on the basepath. Eaton has provided depth that was needed once Bryce Harper left. Eaton ranked among the middle of the pack in NL outfielders as he finished 18th in wRC+ (107).
Another benefit was Eaton’s contract. A year before the trade, he signed a five-year extension with Chicago worth $23.5 million-plus two options. His super team-friendly contract allowed for the Nats to sign Patrick Corbin who played a big role in the World Series run.
A year ago, it seemed the Nats had won the trade, as Lucas Giolito had failed to pan out, while Dunning and Lopez only flashed potential. In fact, Giolito was awful in his first full year in the rotation. He finished the 2018 season, 10-13, with a 6.13 ERA, and 125 strikeouts, while accumulating -1.3 WAR. Giolito led the AL in walks allowed (90), earned runs (118), and allowed the ninth most homers (27).
2019 marked a make or break it season for Giolito and he finally put everything together. He emerged as the ace of the rotation and finally lived up to his immense potential. Giolito finished the 2019 season, 14-9, with a 3.41 ERA, and 228 strikeouts while accumulating a 5.6 WAR. Giolito was shut down in September due to a mild lat strain in his pitching arm. With the season delayed, the 25-year-old has had ample time to recover his strength and prepare for the 2020 season.
Giolito has started to emerge as one of the best young arms in the league. Among all qualified AL starters, Giolito finished the 2019 season, sixth in FIP (3.43), sixth in WAR (5.1), fifth in ERA (3.41), and seventh in strikeouts (228).
Dunning missed all of the 2019 season as he underwent Tommy John surgery. Once baseball returns, Dunning should return to Double-A in order to build back his strength and work back up to making the majors.
Lopez took a step back in 2019 after having a strong 2018 season. In 2018, Lopez went 7-10, with a 3.91 ERA, and 151 strikeouts in 32 starts. It was safe to say, most predicted Lopez would build in his 2018 campaign and take the next step. Instead, he stumbled. Lopez finished the 2019 season 10-15, with a 5.38 ERA, and 169 strikeouts in 33 starts. In 2019, Lopez reduced his number of walks and increased his amount of strikeouts. However opposing batters seemed to figure him out. In 2018, opposing batters hit .234, with an OPS of .713 whereas in 2019 opposing batters hit .278, with an OPS of .833 against him.
Who won the trade?
Now that Giolito has emerged as an ace, it can be argued that both teams won the trade. From Washington’s perspective, they were able to win the World Series which is every team’s dream, so they would absolutely make this trade again. Eaton had an impressive World Series and hit some clutch homers in the playoffs. He has two years left on his contract and is only 31. He provides much-needed depth, especially now that the offense has an even bigger hole due to Anthony Rendon’s departure.
Chicago is finally leaving their rebuild and have a new face of the pitching staff in Giolito. He is only 25 and won’t reach free agency till 2024. The trade could work out even more for the White Sox if Dunning can overcome his injury and Lopez can bounce back. But the team has to be ecstatic with Giolito and his ascension fits perfectly with the team’s window to compete.
However, the real winner of the trade is Adam Eaton.