Adam Eaton’s 2020 campaign, and perhaps his time in the nation’s capital, ended when he suffered a fractured left index finger in a September 16th game against Tampa Bay.
Eaton’s four seasons in Washington, D.C. saw him put up a combined .279/.365/.419 line in 310 games and 1,309 plate appearances, over which he was worth 4.2 fWAR, and he was a part of the roster that helped win a World Series championship in 2019, going 15 for 61 in a total of 17 games and 75 PAs in the postseason.
Eaton dealt with injuries throughout his time with the Nationals, but performed when he did get healthy and was able to stay on the field.
“He’s one of the reasons why we did what we did last year,” manager Davey Martinez said in mid-September, after Eaton landed on the Injured List with the season-ending injury.
“He was healthy last year, and you could see what he can do when he’s fully healthy. He’s an unbelievable player, he’s a spark plug on this team. His teammates mean a lot to him, this organization means a lot to him, so moving forward, we don’t know what’s going to happen, hopefully there’s conversations with him, but that’s something that [GM Mike Rizzo] and myself have to sit down and decide at the end of the year. But I love him. He knows that. Knows how I feel about him. He’s a guy that gets guys fired up in that dugout and the clubhouse every day.”
The Nationals declined to exercise the $10.5M club option included in the 5-year/$23.5M extension Eaton signed with the White Sox in 2015, (after picking up the $9.5M option for 2020), opting instead for a $1.5M buyout that made the 31-year-old outfielder a free agent this winter.
Unfortunately for Eaton, he hits free agency coming off a frustrating campaign in which he, by his own admission, never felt comfortable at the plate. He finished the 60-game season with a .226/.285/.384 line in 41 games and 176 plate appearances, over which he was worth -0.5 fWAR.
In a post-injury press conference in September, Eaton said he hoped that talent evaluators would take into account the fact that the 2020 COVID season was an odd one when they look at his numbers.
“My god, I hope so. I hope so,” Eaton joked. “I think when I’m on the field I feel like I’m pretty consistent as a player.
“Not nearly as young and as fiery as I was maybe five years ago, but I think when you put 150-plus games in front of me, and the player that I can be — I’m such a slow starter I think as well, if you look at my history, I think in the first 40 games I usually hit like .230 and then I kind just take off and grind back.
“Once the pitchers get a little tired I get better for some reason. But like I said, I hope they do. I think there’s a lot of moving parts with that other than just 60 games and playing underneath some crazy circumstances. We missed out on a lot of time, a lot of games, and I think organizations are going to have — it’s going to be a different offseason. I’ll just put it that way, just as simple as I can put it.”
The Nationals, as a group, also missed out on a victory lap after winning it all in 2019, and in Eaton’s mind, he said, he did feel like they lost an opportunity for something special.
“I think anybody that plays this game is blessed to even go to a World Series, might as well win it,” Eaton said.
“I didn’t realize it,” he explained, “first and foremost, coming back, I didn’t realize that it was such an intricacy of the game, but like I said, after now going through it and looking at years past, and some teams, it would be nice to kind of have a little victory lap. Where again — we’re nationwide and people were coming out to show their support, and saying, not ‘Thank you’ by any stretch, but it’s enjoyable to be able to enjoy that with the fans that have supported us for as many years as we’ve been in D.C. as well as the Expos, like I said, it’s a nationwide thing. So it’s — I don’t know, I think it’s kind of a fair word to be honest with you, you’re kind of with the whole COVID thing and whole situation, you do feel a little cheated.
“You wish that — now looking back that it would be an enjoyable 162 [game season] like I said, with being able to enjoy it with the fans.”
Asked what he has left in the tank (he is only 31 years old) and how long he wants to keep playing, Eaton said, “It’s a good question.”
“I think I have plenty of drive left, I think that I have plenty of will to win and play to win,” he added. “I think this offseason will be getting healthy again, to completely get healthy again.
“Coming into even the camp here I’ve had some issues and things that can be cleaned up pretty well with a couple months off.
“I want to play for as long as they’ll let me play. And like I said, I love as well as being one of the older guys in the clubhouse, being able to mentor the younger guys, I think [Victor] Robles] and [Juan] Soto, having those guys, working with those guys, especially in ‘17 and ‘18 when I was done, being able to really talk to them and help them along the way, I think that’s something that I can share with those guys, as well as now that I’ve won a World Series, I think that’s something I might be able to help — help being able to see all facets of the game.”
“I still have a lot of fire left in me. Still have the willingness to win.”
Seriously injured early in 2017, after he was acquired from Chicago in a 3-for-1 trade with the White Sox the previous winter (which sent Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning to the Sox), Eaton played just 23 games, and he missed time with injuries in 2018 as well, but as both he and Martinez noted, when he was healthy in 2019, Eaton showed what he’s capable of doing, though he struggled again in 2020.
How did he assess his four years in Washington in hindsight at the end of his own season?
“It’s a great organization, the people here are salt of the earth,” Eaton said.
“They’re such a supportive group that are only focused on winning. And what more can a player ask for.
“In ‘17, I really didn’t know what to expect coming over, besides an organization that wanted to win, but it was just way more than that when I came over.
“From Rizzo and the Lerner family constantly put us in a position to be successful as players is so gratifying.
“It’s awesome to be able to be a part of something that wants to win day in and day out and every single year.
“From a personal level, having that injury in ‘17 was absolutely wind out of my sails coming over, especially the team that we had. I thought it was the best team that I’ve ever been on period. And to be taken away from that, and then trying to make a comeback there in ‘18, still having some issues, but I felt like when I’ve been on the field besides this year, I’ve tried to be consistent as I can, and just try to give everything I have to an organization that’s given a lot to the players. I think it’s a great relationship that players and the organization have that puts the best product on the field and the best product on the field is going to give their 100% effort. So, I couldn’t have asked for a better four years.”