Ryan Sullivan: The trickle-down effect of Eaton’s latest setback

On Thursday evening, news unfortunately broke that Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton underwent surgery on his ankle and will miss much of the rest of the season. Eaton injured himself in the Nationals’ home opener on a slide into home, and regrettably it took doctors over a month to properly diagnose the ailment. Now, for the second consecutive year, he will spend the majority of the season on the disabled list. Speaking for all Nationals fans, we wish him a speedy recovery.

Eaton’s lengthy absence will have an impact on the Nationals’ lineup. Howie Kendrick will now serve as the primary left fielder and Wilmer Difo will be the everyday second baseman. Matt Adams will also receive plenty of action supporting Kendrick in left and Ryan Zimmerman at first base.

Losing Eaton will negatively impact the team’s defense in left field and its on-base percentage, not to mention the energy he brings to the team each day. On the other hand, the infield defense should dramatically improve with Difo playing regularly, and fortunately, all three are off to a strong start to 2018. Adams has been arguably Washington’s second most valuable hitter this season, batting .298 with 10 home runs in only 84 at-bats. Kendrick has been his usual productive self, batting .288 with four home runs and 13 doubles, while Difo has been a catalyst at the bottom of Washington’s lineup during the recent hot streak.

Each player entered the season as a backup, but now all three will see nearly full-time action in 2018. Unfortunately, all are better used in a reserve capacity, as Adams scuffles against left-handed pitching, Kendrick is nearly 35 and Difo struggles with strikeouts. All three will need to mask their deficiencies in order not to be exposed with the additional playing time. Furthermore, outfielders Andrew Stevenson and Mois├ęs Sierra, ticketed to spend all season at Triple-A, are now poised to see plenty of playing time this summer.

Sadly, top prospect Victor Robles would have been a perfect and natural solution to this dilemma, but he injured his elbow a few weeks ago diving for a ball in the outfield for Triple-A Syracuse and is also expected to miss much of the season. The expected return of Daniel Murphy in the next several weeks should bolster the offense and Brian Goodwin will provide help whenever he returns from the disabled list.

However, expect general manager Mike Rizzo to begin searching outside the organization for another outfielder, preferably a left-handed hitter who can play multiple positions. It is difficult to predict midseason trades, but Kansas City’s Jon Jay is a name to remember. The left-handed hitting Jay is batting .283 with a .351 on-base percentage this season and is a career .288 hitter with a .355 on-base percentage. The 33-year-old can play all three outfield spots and is signed only through this year, so he should be available in trade discussions this summer. While not the player Eaton is, Jay is a possible trade target as another trickle-down effect to this unfortunate setback.

Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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