As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Adam Eaton, who in his third season with the Nats finally showed what a healthy version of himself can do to help a team win.
PLAYER REVIEW: ADAM EATON
Age on opening day 2020: 31
How acquired: Traded from White Sox for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, December 2016
MLB service time: 7 years, 30 days
2019 salary: $8.4 million
Contract status: Signed for $9.5 million in 2020, club holds $10.5 million option (or $1.5 million buyout) for 2021
2019 stats: 151 G, 656 PA, 566 AB, 103 R, 158 H, 25 2B, 7 3B, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 15 SB, 3 CS, 65 BB, 106 SO, .279 AVG, .365 OBP, .428 SLG, .792 OPS, 101 OPS+, 1 DRS, 2.3 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR
2019 postseason stats: 17 G, 75 PA, 61 AB, 11 R, 15 H, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 10 BB, 9 SO, .246 AVG, .361 OBP, .410 SLG, .771 OPS
Quotable: “I think it’s a credit to the guys in the back, our medical staff and our training staff. I don’t think it has anything to do with me. I think those guys molded me. I am in the best shape in September I’ve been in my entire career, by far. Just being able to run, I feel very strong. My body’s in a good position right now, and it goes all to them. I can only do what I’m told to do, and they’ve done a great job. This medical staff, I think, is the best in the league. I’ve only had experience with a few, but they’re unbelievable.” - Eaton, after his September surge
2019 analysis: The most important stat of Eaton’s season wasn’t his home run total (even though it represented a career high). It wasn’t his on-base percentage. It wasn’t his OPS. It was the very first number listed on every position player’s stat line: games played. After two injury plagued seasons to begin his Nationals career, Eaton finally enjoyed a fully healthy season and was able to contribute to 151 regular season games (plus 17 more in October).
Turns out he’s the kind of player whose contributions become more obvious in the big picture versus the small picture. Look at individual plate appearances or individual moments in the field and you might find yourself shaking your head at Eaton’s poor execution. Popping up a bunt? Unable to haul in a deep fly ball to the base of the wall? Yes, those things happened - and more than once. But over time, they were superseded by a plethora of quality at-bats, some key hits in key moments and his mere presence as the bridge from Trea Turner atop the Nats lineup to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in the heart of the order.
Eaton’s contributions were especially on display in the postseason. Again, the numbers didn’t blow you away. But how many of the Nationals’ biggest moments en route to their World Series title included Eaton? A lot. He moved Turner into scoring position when needed. He drew walks to extend rallies. He put the bat on the ball to drive in runs. And he even clubbed a couple of massive home runs, further proving his worth to this club three years after the blockbuster trade that brought him here.
2020 outlook: The Nationals faced a decision on Eaton days after the World Series ended. They chose to pick up his $9.5 million option and bring him back for another season, which probably felt like a no-brainer but did require at least a little bit of thought. With Soto and Victor Robles obviously entrenched in two outfield positions for many years to come, the return of Eaton prevents the Nats from even thinking about trying to add a bigger bat there.
General manager Mike Rizzo has always believed in him, though, and that’s why he was willing to trade three top pitching prospects for the unflashy grinder. So Eaton again will be counted on to stay healthy and continue to do the things he does well as the glue guy in the front half of the lineup.
Manager Davey Martinez may have to watch the 31-year-old’s workload more next season, though. As much as Eaton loves to play every day, as he ages he might benefit from more regular days off. And depending on who else the Nationals have among their roster of outfielders, there could be matchups that justify a replacement from time to time.