Selected out of Miami University of Ohio in the 19th Round of the 2010 Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Adam Eaton debuted for the D-Backs in 2012.
Eaton, now 28, was subsequently traded to the Chicago White Sox as part of a three-team deal which included the LA Angels in December of 2013.
Over three seasons with the White Sox, the left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder (who played mostly center and right field) put up a combined .290/.362/.422 line with an average of 28 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs and 16 stolen bases over that stretch.
As a reporter noted when the Washington Nationals acquired Eaton from the Sox in return for top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 Draft pick Dane Dunning, Eaton was not necessarily a household name, so, GM Mike Rizzo was asked, what did the Nationals see that others didn’t that convinced them to part with what they did in the trade?
“He hits for average,” Rizzo explained.
“He's a contact guy. He gets on base. He's got some power. He plays great defense. He throws outstanding. He's got a great arm that's accurate, he throws runners out.
“As far as the analytics, he comes from a high WAR as a corner outfielder. We feel he is going to be a solid performer in center field. And he's a tough out, he grinds out at-bats. He rarely swings and misses. He puts up a good at-bat when needed. And we feel that — his make-up, attitude, position and flexibility was something that was important to us.”
Eaton put up a .284/.362/.428 line, with 29 doubles, nine triples and 14 home runs in a 6.0 fWAR campaign in his third season in Chicago in 2016, and he is under contract through 2019 at $4M in 2017, $6M in 2018 and $8.4M in 2019 with a club option for $9.5M in 2020 and another at $10.5M in 2021 or a $1.5M buyout in each of the last two years.
In addition to the numbers and the team-friendly contract, Rizzo said, they heard good things from everyone they spoke to while doing their due diligence before the trade.
“He plays with an edge. He's playing 100 miles an hour with his hair on fire, he hustles, he will dive for balls, he will steal a base, he goes into second base hard.
“In the batter's box, his hitting approach is he never gives in. He's a balanced hitter split-wise, he hits lefties as well as righties. So it brings a good skill set to our ballclub.
“He's more contact-oriented and hits in situations and can do a lot of things. He bunts the ball, hits the ball the other way.
“You can hit and run with him, he's got some sneaky pop and skill on the bases. I think the arrow offensively is going up and a guy that has defensive flexibility for us.”
Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker told reporters what he knew about Eaton after the deal was announced at the Winter Meetings.
“Over the years, I know when I was in Cincinnati, Walt Jocketty liked him because he went to school with Walt's son who was a ballplayer,” Baker said.
“And he has been on everybody's radar for a while and an underrated player.
“The only negative I've heard is you have to calm him down a little bit because he goes 100% all the time, which is not a bad way to play this game.
“In Arizona, he was there. I was very surprised that they had traded him at that point in time to the White Sox because I thought he was a good player. I'm just hoping that he comes -- brings the same thing to our team. You know, you need some guys that are sort of like, you know, guys that come to play every day.
“Our guys come to play every day but this guy he's not afraid to get dirty and grimy, greasy, nasty, do everything there is to beat you.”
Eaton, inevitably, was asked to describe himself as a player when he was introduced to the nation’s capital at the Nationals’ Winterfest celebration earlier this month.
“Anything to win a ballgame,” Eaton started. “I’m 5’8’’... I have to do the small things correctly. I have to think the game. I have to play the game hard. I have to go out there and want to win at any cost. And I’ve played my whole career as such and I’ll continue to do that. So hopefully people see me as a player who wants to win, will do anything to win and does the small things correctly.”
A numbers of players, and one coach, shared what they’d heard about their new teammate at Winterfest as well.
“I don’t know that much about him other than the things that people that I talked to, people that have played with him, coaches that have had him, all said the same things, the same things that you’re hearing about him,” Nats’ Bench Coach Chris Speier said.
“He’s a grinder, he’s a player, he’s a great guy in the clubhouse, good defender, can do a lot of things that you look for in a center fielder, so we’re happy we have him.”
“He’s a tough out,” Tanner Roark told reporters. Eaton is 0 for 2 career vs Roark.
“I remember facing him in Arizona. I believe he’s gotten better since then. He’s got strong arms. Compact. Strong. Got some pop, some sneaky pop.
“All around, he’s a good tool to add to this team.”
“Just know that he’s a tough out,” Max Scherzer added. Eaton is 5 for 15 with a double and two walks vs Scherzer.
“Facing him with the White Sox, as a leadoff hitter for them, low-strikeout guy and always found a way just to get knocks against me, so glad that he’s on my team.”
“Adam is coming off just a career year and a three-year cycle here where he’s been one of the most productive players in the big leagues,” Daniel Murphy added.
[ed. note - “Eaton ranked 14th in the AL and 26th overall in the majors in fWAR over the last three seasons.”]
“He does it a little bit different way,” Murphy said. “Baserunning and defensive value... he gets on base, and I think he hit 14 home runs last year too, so he’s got some gas in there. From the guys hitting behind him, I’m a firm believer that protection comes from the front, so like Bryce Harper is going to get a lot more pitches to hit when guys are on in front of him.”
“Adam, I think what he does on the field, he does a ton of stuff,” Ryan Zimmerman said.
“I don’t know what the lineup looks like, but you talk about having maybe him and Trea [Turner] at the top of the order, that’s a pretty good 1-2. The key to offense, and Murph talks about it all the time, is having traffic on the bases.
“That puts pressure on the other pitcher and changes the way their catcher calls the game. More fastballs if those guys are going to be running all over the place, and it just puts pressure on the other team and that’s the name of the game.”
Eaton was told last week that if he needed an example of how to battle expectations, he need look no further than Murphy, who signed a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal in D.C. last winter and then put up an MVP-caliber season in 2016. Eaton said he’d spoken to his new teammate already.
“My message to him was the same [as his] for me. He was just like, “Hey, let’s get it going. Game on. We’re pumped to have you. We’re excited that you’re here,’ and basically, ‘Let’s get to work.’ And that’s kind of my theory as well. ‘Let’s get to work.’
“We want to make it to the playoffs, we want to get far in the playoffs, and it starts now with our winter training and trying to get stronger, get better in the cage, in all aspects and learn from our mistakes and get better.”