Adam Eaton knows that the potential return of Bryce Harper, who remains unsigned with pitchers and catchers reporting around the league, could play a role in his future in D.C., though that scenario playing out seems unlikely.
Eaton, acquired by the Washington Nationals in a December 2016 trade with the Chicago White Sox, is set to play right field for the Nats if Harper ends up signing on with another team this winter, but until Harper signs, there is some question in Eaton’s mind about his place in the nation’s capital.
“It affects me, for sure,” Eaton acknowledged when he spoke to reporters for the first time this Spring. “Definitely affects me. I train to play 162. That’s all I can think about. That’s all I can really control. Going to leave it at that.”
While the free agent market has been slow to play out, and a number of veteran players, including Harper, remain unsigned, the Nationals have been active, signing new players, acquiring some more, and building an impressive roster they think can compete for a postseason berth in 2019 with or without Harper.
Eaton said he’s watched the offseason moves closely, and is excited about what he’s seen.
“Heck, I think the fanbase is with us,” Eaton said. “We’re watching just as the fanbase is as well, and I think they should be as excited as we are excited. I mean you get a guy like [Brian] Dozier, you get a guy like Kurt [Suzuki] and Yan [Gomes] and all those guys coming in, signing [Jeremy Hellickson] back in the last week, and then you’ve got [Kyle] Barraclough and [Trevor] Rosenthal, and all those guys, you know, some really big signs and veteran guys that have been there, done that, and love to compete, and like I said, we’re right along with the fanbase in excitement and I think it will show. I think, like I said, we’ll get into camp and get the personalities down and like I said, guys that have been there, done that.”
The players the Nationals have assembled in West Palm Beach for the 2019 season, new and old, look like a pretty good, competitive bunch to the 30-year-old outfielder, who, barring a surprise Harper return, will be sharing the outfield with Juan Soto, 20, and Victor Robles, 21, (or Michael A. Taylor, 27). Eaton said he’s liking the look of the entire roster as it’s set now.
“Pitching staff is great,” he said. “Bullpen is coming along nicely. Up the middle with Dozier and Howie [Kendrick] coming back and Trea [Turner] and [Anthony Rendon] and [Ryan] Zimmerman and then you’ve got the young bucks in the outfield — I consider myself a young buck, kind of, still, and Mike roaming out there a young buck as well, those guys are all kids, but it’s going to be an exciting group, it’s going to be an athletic group, and it’s going to be interesting.
“Like I said, it’s going to be a very exciting year, I think, here, of course, if I’m a part of it.”
As any player in his position will say, of course, the only things they can worry about are the ones they can control, and for Eaton, what he can control is his preparation for 2019, and he said after two years of injuries (ACL + high ankle sprain in 2017; surgery to repair the same ankle in 2018), he’s finally healthy this winter and looking forward to getting started on what will be his third season in D.C.
“You’ll manage your whole life with this injury,” he said of the torn ACL and ankle injuries he suffered on a play at first base a month into his first season with the Nationals, “but there’s been no rehabilitation this offseason. It’s been strength. A normal offseason. But continued body maintenance. We’ve talked at length the last two years about how this will give longevity to my career because I’m forced to do more body maintenance and take a lot more time out for that. It’s been a focus on making sure I’m ready, and probably in a better way than I have been in the past. It’s been a good strengthening offseason, and I feel strong. I’m just ready to get after it.”
Eaton said he also applied some advice Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer offered when the two talked about offseason conditioning and preparation.
“You know what’s funny is I kind of felt fresh at the end of the year,” Eaton said, after playing a total of 95 games last season (76 starts) and posting a .301/.394/.411 line, 18 doubles, and five home runs 370 plate appearances. He missed two month from early April to early June, then worked his way back slowly and played sparingly down the stretch, starting 15 of 22 of the games in September to wrap up his seventh major league season.
“I felt like, you know, because I didn’t play very [much] against lefties towards the tail end, and Davey [Martinez] was giving me an off-day really kind of a couple times a week,” Eaton said, “I felt pretty fresh, honestly. And then going into the offseason — talking to Max about going into an offseason last year, in year’s past I would really take time off and not do anything, and Max really talked about, ‘Do something twice a week, doing something three times a week, so when you get back into it it’s not an absolute bear and hill to climb, so I did some things and worked on a few things in the offseason and like I said it felt pretty fresh.
“It didn’t feel like a full season, of course, because I didn’t play a full season, but like I said, it’s been an interesting two years, but I feel good, I feel ready to go, and like I said, it’s been an interesting — even the last six months or so, but I feel good.”