Nationals Baseball: Eaton Back and Forth

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Eaton Back and Forth

The Nats traded for Adam Eaton. The gave up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and ... let me check... Dane Dunning.  Good, Bad? Let's go over it

OK so how good is Adam Eaton? Pretty good. He's a good average hitter (high .280s) with good patience (top 3rd type walk rate) who makes good contact. He has excellent speed on the base paths. He's a plus corner outfielder who has shown a very good arm following shoulder surgery.

He's not old (Turned 28 on Tuesday! Happy Birthday!) so you can reasonably expect him to continue to perform for several years and he's making a crazy low salary for someone performing at his level. Only 4 million this year and very reasonable numbers for 4 years after that*.

So what's the downside? Well, he has below average power, which can be a tough sell for a corner outfielder. Of course he'll play CF for the Nats so that lessens the power issue but that also lessens his defensive impact. He's likely only an average CF.

Is that it for downside? Yeah, probably. He's a very good player who does a lot well and nothing terribly for a minimal cost.

But what about the cost? Did the Nats give up too much?

Let's take the "no" side first. It is true Giolito was a prized prospect but Lucas had issues this year and apparently the league quickly soured him. The loss of velocity and the lack of dominance in the minors suggest a pitcher that won't develop into an ace and may be looking at another TJ surgery sooner rather than later. Reynaldo Lopez was everyone's new hotness when it comes to Nats minor league starters but the Nats themselves were inclined to see him as a future pen arm rather than a closer. Both pitchers struggled mightily in their first taste of the majors. Dunning is an interesting arm who had a good year in low A (a 1st round draft pick - as were the other two) but would need another good year in 2017 with improved peripherals to make anyones top lists.

The flip side is though that Giolito did have that high ranking, Top 7 across the board in back to back years. Scouts are not idiots and everyone was in agreement on his overall potential. While that ace potential may not be reached, it does seem likely that he still becomes an effective rotation pitcher. He was able to seemingly improve over the course of both his AA and AAA stints this year. Lopez didn't have the pedigree of Giolito but showed an ability to compete in AA and AAA, that at the very least suggests he deserves a longer look.  Both these guys are in their early 20s so performance improvements are certainly not out of the question.

So the most likely scenario is the Nats gave up two extremely cheap back of the rotation starters, coming into form over the next two seasons with one potentially morphing into an effective reliever for a very cheap more than solid CF, who will effectively help over 5. Seems fair when I think about it.

Of course Lito and Lopez have all the upside. It's unlikely Eaton busts out to be a 25 homer guy, but could either of these guys have it click and become special? Yes.  Of course they could also crap out. It's the story for all prop sects but with guys who made lists the idea of a special player isn't the pipe dream it is for most prospects traded.

The Nats did need a CF though and Eaton fills that gap cheaply for a long while. That not only potentially frees up money this year - but leaves money available in future years. For those that want to envision a Nationals future with Bryce rather than without that's important.

What I see coming next is a series of moves. I see Espinosa traded now that it's settled they don't need him. They can save money and avoid any problems he may have sitting. I see Drew being brought back.  I don't see a reliever signed. That's too much money unless... Perhaps they trade for Colome as has been bandied about. An interesting move would be to bring in Colome AND Smyly and then get rid of Gio which would free up money. That could be followed by a Jansen signing.  But that's just a thought though. I've heard nothing like that. And what do the Nats have to offer if Robles is not going anywhere?

And the questions abound on why the souring on Lito? Is it more performance or talent? There's the thought that his arm is ticking and with the slower development the Nats didn't see getting that much out of him before surgery #2.  Of course if he's injured - he won't pass a physical for a trade. So he's likely not injured but that makes his issues mechanical which means fixable.

And what about Cutch - rumors were they could have gotten him for just one of these guys. Cutch wouldn't have fit the money or control that Eaton had but he was an MVP type - a game changer - as recently as 2015. Would it have been better to gamble on him and save yourself one of these arms?

Because what happens to the depth? Voth is an ok guy in reserve, at least as competent as most guys getting a try, but if he fails? Do they love Fedde? And what if, god forbid, two guys go down - it just happened this year. Maybe there's another move for a SP coming?

Ok I'm tired - that's a lot of rambling. Discuss amongst yourselves

*since you are too lazy to look it up yourself 6m, 8.4m, 9.5m, 10.5m with the last two being team options) 


SM said...

Why aren't you asleep? (Hell, why am I not asleep?)

If the Nats intend to acquire other pieces through trades, they're clearly going to have to deal players from their 25-man roster. (They're certainly not forking over what the Marlins have apparently offered Jansen.)

I agree that what will follow is a series of small(ish) moves, but around the fringes. Stephen Drew sure, but Alex--I don't think you mean ex-Nat Jesus--Colome? Rizzo would need to start on Rays' GM Silverman with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch if he hoped for anything resembling a reasonable deal to acquire Colome.

In any case, who's to say the series of deals have to take place during the Winter Meetings? Depending on the standings, I suspect a lot of heavy lifting will take place around July 31.

DaveB said...

I feel OK with Voth, Cole & Fedde lined up for depth, but certainly wouldn't mind a move that tried to upgrade Gio (perhaps with Smyly). I think, however, that it would gut the farm too much to go after Colome (and Smyly), even if we did get some of it back for Espi & Gio.
My guess is they try to sign 1 or 2 of Holland. Feliz, Ziegler, etc. and maybe tinker with the bench (Drew?) . Even with just a move or two like that I like the looks of this 2017 team a lot.

Fries said...

I have to agree with SM. I don't like this trade purely because it gutted the farm. Clearly Rizzo's not trading Robles, so who's left of value to dangle out there when there are still question marks at 1B and closer?

I don't necessarily think the price was bad and the White Sox ran away with a steal of a deal like all the talking heads are saying. Dude's got an amazing contract for the Nats. But I don't think this was the right trade to be made given that we sold off our 3 highest upside pitching prospects for a guy who's contract is probably beyond our "win" window. Cutch was the better move when it would have cost less in prospects and fit the timing of the window better.

Now maybe Rizzo makes some moves to extend that window. A few years ago we thought the window was closing in 2016, now it's looking like 2018 or 2019, so there are possibilities down the road. But doing so is going to take a steal of a trade like the Turner/Ross bank robbery of the Padres system.

Ryan said...

Adam Eaton is pretty similar to Anthony Rendon as he's good at everything. I think the Nats gave up a lot but it was worth it when there are serious concerns about Giolito unlocking all that potential. Plus, Eaton is so cheap, I mean, look at what Heyward got last year. Yes, the farm system takes a hit, but the team is looking awesome for the next 2 years. Maybe, just maybe, the Nationals chances of extending Harper increased with the move.

DezoPenguin said...

It's kind of amazing how down people are on Eaton. Yes, WAR isn't the be-all and end-all of statistical discussion, but we're still talking about the guy who just turned in the 11th-best (Fangraphs) or 13th-best (Baseball Reference) season by position player in all of baseball, who's 28 years old and under contract for five years for basically the price of a ham sandwich.

The free-agent market value for a guy with Eaton's stats? He's basically Jason Heyward. Only he's being paid about the same for five years as Heyward gets for one. (...of course, Heyward's bat fell off a cliff last year for no apparent reason, because baseball is cruel, although he also did that while winning a World Series, because baseball is a team sport) And unlike Heyward, who spent his entire career in right field with a lot of "well, I'm sure anybody as good at defense as he is could move to center," Eaton has actually played in center and was adequate (albeit not above average) at it. If he turns in numbers similar to 2014-2015, then he's a three-years-younger Dexter Fowler, who is poised to make $16-18M per year in free agency this year.

And the Pirates' base asking price for McCutchen was, after all Giolito/Lopez+Robles, not just Giolito/Lopez. So (depending on how much value you attach to Dunning, who is highly-regarded but also way off, since there was no mention of who would be the extra player(s) in the Pirates rumors), we paid the same functional price for the better player under cheaper contract. Plus, the system at least has some SP depth (Cole, Voth, Fedde) as well as MLB-level pitchers under extended contract (five years more of Max, three of Stras, plus Roark's still pre-arb and then there's Ross...) whereas if we traded Robles we'd have no OF depth at all and before getting Eaton had nobody in the majors for beyond 2018, so Giolito and Lopez were worth less to the Nationals than Robles.

Fries makes the valid point that we don't have the hole at closer plugged yet. That's the problem with plugging the CF/SS hole with top-grade talent; talent costs. If Rizzo doesn't have the authority to spend the Lerner's money, though, we weren't ever going to get Melancon, Jansen, or Chapman (or Fowler, for that matter), and if you don't like trading, say, Giolito in a package for five years of a high-grade outfielder, I'd hope you'd think it would be a high price to pay for a year of Wade Davis (plus, the Royals wanted MLB-ready for Davis anyway). If Rizzo *does* have the authority to spend, then Jansen, Chapman (ugh), and at a lower tier Ziegler are all still out there.

As for 1B...while I agree, I'd really like to see a better solution to last year's worst position than "do the same thing, only a year older, and hope it works better," it's depressingly evident that the Nats weren't going to do anything in the offseason to bench Zimmerman.

blovy8 said...

I am a bit concerned about the defense holding up in center. If he's average there, fine, but the ONLY plus defender will likely be Rendon. I'd still keep Turner at lead off, Eaton seems like a classic #2 who walks, can move runners, runs well enough to stay out of DP's or become the 2nd leadoff type, can use the hole if Turner somehow stays at first, etc. Probably weird to have three lefties in a row, but unless they sandwich Rendon in there, it seems more logical.

Rizzo had to be willing to lose a trade to compete the next couple of years, the good part is no one with positive value this season HAS to be traded now.

JW said...

For me, if giving up two top prospects "guts the farm" then the farm wasn't nearly as good as people liked to crow about (and I don't mean crowing by people on this blog). It's just difficult to give up three for one when there are other holes to fill. Additional trades where you had to put two or more prospects together for one player would probably start getting towards what I would think of as "gutting the farm." That's why the trade to me seems a little fool-hardy; you are limiting yourself so much in filling those other holes this year. It's not just a lack of money to spend, this isn't a very deep FA class. Most teams are going to have to work through trades, and now you have fewer players to use in trades.

When thinking about the "window" though, the Nats will have a good bit more to spend next offseason with Werth coming off the books. So I think it's difficult to know whether 2017, 2018, or 2019 will be the last year when it looks like they'll be in strong position to contend based on current roster composition (at least for a division title). Who are some of the top available free agents next year? 2018 has a huge class, that I know.

sirc said...

Rizzo did it again. He made a surprise move, and I believe that once again he moved players whose values were inflated.

Hypothetically, if the Nats gave up a #3 or #4 starter plus a future reliever (ignoring Dunning, because he is too far away to put an honest value on) for Eaton, once again Rizzo will end up in the plus column.

This is Gio Gonzales all over again. Good move.

JE34 said...

Catcher platoon

Eaton and Murphy both hit lefties pretty well, so my guess is that they don't care much about the 3 lefties in a row. Here's hoping they can keep Harper from running to first during his swing vs lefties this year.

DezoPenguin said...

Fangraphs, at least, seems to think that the hype over the Eaton haul might be overstated:

Best-case outcome for me would be that Eaton continues to be excellent for us while at least two of the prospects turn out to be #3 starter-ish quality, so that it doesn't come off as a fleecing either way.

In other news, Chapman to the Yankees for 5/$86M. Yeah, we weren't paying that. Andrew Marchand suggested that Hal was behind it as much as Cashman.

Anonymous said...

One of the National writers (Rosenthal or Heyman, I believe) said the Nats had an offer on the table to the Pirates of Giolito and Dunning for McCutchen. My instinct is to prefer that deal to the one for Eaton because I've been counting on Lopez as bullpen insurance. The Nats didn't need to play in the expensive closer market because they one in house because of Lopez. Of course there's a risk that Lopez doesn't perform well as a closer, but I tend to prefer that risk to the risk associated with giving a closer 5 years and $15 million a season.

I see two main reasons to prefer Eaton to McCutchen: (1) the contract; and (2) performance trends. McCutchen is underpaid, but Eaton is criminally underpaid. McCutchen has been a better player, but Eaton is younger and was better last year. Eaton doesn't have to bounce back to be good, and his offense has been very consistent (meaning that almost all of his fluctuations in overall value relate to the quality of his defense).

What all this means to me is that it's too early to pass judgment on whether the higher trade cost for more cheap years of Eaton is better than the lower trade cost for fewer more expensive years of McCutchen because we don't yet know what the Nats are going to do with the financial flexibility Eaton provides. Right now, the Nats' biggest (apparent) need is in the bullpen. I hope they don't spend a lot of money there because the risk of getting nothing or very little for your money is just too high for my blood. I also hope the Lerners just don't sit on the extra money.

PotomacFan said...

I like the Eaton deal. He has a really good OBP, and he has modest power -- not so much HR, but a good number of doubles and triples. He is a big upgrade over career-average Revere, let alone the awful Revere we saw last year. And he is incredibly inexpensive. That gives the Nationals lots of dollars to buy what they need next year or the following year. Werth comes off the books next year.

I think the Nats can sign some decent 2nd tier relief pitchers, and get a top tier relief pitcher mid-season. It would be crazy to pay $15 million plus for 4 or more years for a guy who pitches 70 innings per year. And I'm glad that Chapman is not coming here.

It's possible that the Nats could still sign Wieters. That would give us a strong line-up from top to bottom (well, there is RZim, though).

blovy8 said...

Rumor is now about the Nats getting Robertson from Chicago. If they give up more than they did for Norris, we can start asking about whether Rizzo fell on his head or is somehow in league with a conspiracy for the other Chicago team to completely harsh the Cubs fans' buzz.

Ole PBN said...

Harper has said it time and time again: Fans tend to overvalue their prospects. At face value, the ChiSox get the #3 and #38 prospects and virtually unknown in Dunning. If I'm a Sox fan and don't follow the Nats as closely (if at all) as we all do - I'm beyond thrilled with this trade. "Highway robbery!" "Stupid Nats!" "Thanks for the Farm!" ... But hold on. Lito's progression through the minors has been slower than expected. He's already a TJ guy with a clock thats ticking. He was nothing to write home about in his 21+ innings at the MLB-level. My take after his 3rd outing was this: Trade this guy now before the rest of the league finds out the emperor has no clothes. His fastball is flat and struggled with command, not just walks but missing spots. He has a plus curve, which he couldn't locate, thus leaving him 1-dimensional. There's a shot with a mechanical tweak here and there, those issues could be fixed. Fine. But the biggest thing of all is his lack of deception in his delivery. He shows the ball so high above his head before he lets it go. This gives the hitter an amazing advantage of tracking the ball early. Because of this, his control/movement on his heater/curve need to be impeccable; they are not. Perhaps this could be tweaked as well? How keen are you in nearly reinventing a pitcher at this stage who is one more elbow injury away from being completely irrelevant? I promise you, Lito develops into nothing more that #4-#5 (depending on his team).

Now for Lopez. This is one I was sad to see go. He had the stuff, swing-and-miss type stuff that you cannot teach. Control may improve, like with Lito and most youngsters. But even then, I didn't see him as more than a back-of-the-rotation arm. Better used as hard-throwing reliever with a suitable out-pitch. But even then, how much is that worth? Dunning is a complete unknown, so if you want to hail him as the next Roger Clemens, go ahead.

Eaton, for all the reasons Harper listed is a solid pick-up. Years of control, in his prime, cheap, and fills a need. I think what fans are bent out of shape about is "Who the hell is Adam Eaton?" When someone hears names like "Chapman" or "McCutchen" or "Sale" their ears perk up they get all pissy if we don't land him. Asking price was too steep for those players and if we want a future at all and avoid a 5-year rebuild, this is the way to go. Rizzo, aside from Papelbon, has not let us down before. I think fans are going to love Eaton, just the way he plays the game.

In all, its a win-win for both teams - but I firmly believe Rizzo is going to be the one laughing all the way to the bank. Best of luck to Lito/Lopez/Dunning - very happy with who we got.

Anonymous said...

Another thought on the Eaton, particularly with respect to trading for McCutchen: What if the Nats decide to blow things up in 2019 or 2020? At that point, McCutchen would have no value, since he would be a free agent. In contrast, Eaton would still be under a team friendly deal for 2-3 years. If Eaton performs similarly in 2017 and 2018 to how he has performed in the past or even declined slightly, what kind of prospects might he bring back in trade in 2019 or 2020? Although he might not bring back three prospects of the caliber the Nats traded, maybe he brings back two prospects similar in caliber to two of the three Nats prospects they traded?

In addition to filling an immediate need, the Nats may effectively be "time shifting" some prospects from seasons they will probably will not help the Nats to seasons that they are more likely to help the Nats, i.e., when they are trying to rebuild.

There are numerous ways that getting a good player in their prime with years left of team control can pay off. For example, think of the trade for Gio back in 2012 when the Nats trade 4 prospects for Gio and 1 prospect. That trade look outstanding in retrospect based on Gio's production and the fact that even years later Gio still has trade value because of his team-friendly contract. Also, interestingly, the Nats were eventually able to get back two of the "prospects" they traded for Gio: Cole and Norris.

BxJaycobb said...

To me, this may come down to whether the Lerners spend the extra money. Because if you're paying for just Adam Eaton the player it's a bad trade. If you're paying for Adam Eaton the player and Adam Eaton the contract it's an even-ish trade that I like. I just hope the Lerners allow rizzo to spend a bit of money on the pen or an extra starter. (I think they will).

Anonymous said...

After failing to land the Sale of the century, did the Nats get Eaton alive?

Flapjack said...

The Eaton trade was broadly reminiscent of the one that brought Span to the Nets for Alex Meyer plus a 1st rounder. Except that Eaton's stats were marginally better, his controllable years longer, and the Nets gave up a bit more (Lopez) to get him. Like Span, who made room for Harper at the corner, the addition will allow the team to move Turner to his more natural position -- shortstop. Though controversial when it was done, nobody has second-guessed Rizzo on that move for a long time.

As others have surmised, Rizzo must have concluded that Giolito was another Meyer (who hasn't amounted to much). Beyond that, it's likely that Cole impressed more last year than his headline numbers suggest. I thought I saw something, at any rate.

I'd like to see the Nets make a run at Quintana, perhaps with a package that includes Gio.

Froggy said...

I wonder if Danny would still be a Nat if he had gone to Natsfest thus this past weekend. I guess making $5.3mm as a bench player on a WS contender isn't as good as playing for the likely 4th place Halos.

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