Revisiting the trade that brought Adam Eaton to the Nationals

It was one of the big trades of the 2016 winter meetings at National Harbor, Md.

The Nationals sent three pitchers to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton. In exchange, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning were traded to Chicago.

Fast-forward to April 2020. Here is a quick look at how this trade in late 2016 affected both teams.

The Nationals were in dire need of a starting outfielder who could be a workhorse at the top of the lineup. Eaton fit that bill. But a major injury to Eaton early in 2017 slowed his potential progress with the Nats.

Adam-Eaton-Baby-Shark-Double-White-Sidebar.jpgPlaying center field to begin that season, Eaton suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and missed the rest of the season. Prior to this major mishap, Eaton was slashing .297/.393/.462 at the top of the order with shortstop Trea Turner, providing the spark the Nats needed to begin each game.

Eaton returned in 2018 and played in 95 games, slashing .301/.394/.401. But he still was bothered by his left ankle, which never fully recovered from that late April 2017 play at first base against the Mets. He underwent another surgery to remove a flap of cartilage in that ankle. So, for the second season in a row, Eaton was unable to reach 100 games played.

In 2019, Giolito, 25, had a breakout season for the White Sox. The tall right-hander put it all together and was named pitcher of the month of May in the American League, going 5-0 with a 1.74 ERA. He cooled off a bit after the All-Star break, going 3-6, but still had a solid campaign overall. Giolito finished with 14-9 record and a 3.41 ERA in 29 starts with three complete games and two shutouts. One signature performance last season came May 23 at Houston in a 4-0 shutout of the Astros in which he struck out nine and allowed only four hits and one walk.

López, 26, had his moments too, bursting onto the scene in 2018 with a 1.78 ERA in his first five starts, albeit without a game in the win column (0-2). He bookended that season with a 2-1 record and 1.09 ERA in September.

Overall, López finished 7-10 with a 3.91 ERA that season. He backed that up with a 10-15 record and a 5.38 ERA last season. López has made 65 starts for the White Sox in the past two seasons, a solid part of the core the club desired in their starting rotation.

Right-hander Dunning is recovering from Tommy John surgery from early in 2019. The 25-year-old had missed the last two months of 2018 with injury, but had performed well at Double-A Birmingham, going 5-2 with a 2.76 ERA in 11 starts after having been called up from high Single-A Winston-Salem.

Both Dunning and Giolito were first-round selections for the Nats and López was an incredible find out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. López has made 73 big league starts with Chicago after 11 appearances with Washington. Giolito has made 68 starts for Chicago after appearing in six games for the Nats in 2016.

Just by the sheer numbers of games played, one would give the nod to the White Sox in this trade, especially since it's three players versus one.

Except for one big thing: the 2019 World Series result. Eaton had a big hand in that franchise-changing moment for the Nationals.

Heading into the Fall Classic last year, Eaton had connected for seven hits in 36 postseason at-bats, a .194 batting clip.

But in the seven-game series against Houston, Eaton went off, hitting .320 (8-for-25) with two homers and six RBIs. He had six hits in the first three games of the series, going 6-for-12 (.500) with nine total bases and two runs scored, a homer and two RBIs.

Then, after going hitless in Games 4 and 5, Eaton connected again in a pair of must-win situations for the Nats in Houston.

His solo shot to right field off of Justin Verlander in the top of the fifth of Game 6 brought the Nats back from a 2-1 deficit to tie the game.

Juan Soto followed with a dramatic solo homer to lift the Nats into the lead. After taking a called strike on the right-hander's first offering, Eaton launched Verlander's second pitch, also a slider, over the right field wall for a home run before a stunned crowd at Minute Maid Park. Eaton scored twice in the game. The Nats won 7-2.

In Game 7, with the Nats leading 4-2 in the top of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded, Eaton singled to center field against Astros right-hander Jose Urquidy, scoring two valuable insurance runs. The Nats won 6-2 to win the World Series, four games to three.

Eaton ended up with 15 hits in the postseason. His 10 RBIs in the playoffs were fourth-most on the Nats behind Anthony Rendon (15), Soto (14) and Howie Kendrick (12).

Overall in 2019, Eaton slashed .279/.365/.428 in 151 games. It was the first time Eaton had reached 150 games in a season since 2016. His 168 overall games played in 2019 are a career high. Not bad for a 19th-round selection in 2010 for the Diamondbacks.

So, yes, if you go by the numbers, eventually the three White Sox pitchers received in this trade can overcome what one player puts up, assuming long careers ahead for all involved. But nothing can be assumed.

And Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo's original intention in this trade was a win-now mentality. The Nats made the postseason in 2017 pretty much without Eaton, and in 2018 failed to get into the playoffs.

Eaton, 31, is playing on a $9.5 million club option in 2020, and is set to pick up $10.5 million in 2021 on another club option. This seems like a very good bargain now for the Nats.

And looking back at winning it all, coupled with the fact that Eaton was a critical part of the comeback for the Nats in the postseason, all makes this trade from 2016 a win for the Nationals. Any GM would make a trade like this if it meant a World Series banner for his team.

With Eaton on the Nats in 2019, that is exactly what transpired.

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