So the last 36 hours have been fascinating for the Washington Nationals. They were rumored to be close to trading for ace Chris Sale, as well as talking to the Royals about closer Wade Davis, and the Pirates about Andrew McCutchen. However, by the time the dust had settled on Wednesday, the Nationals had none of those players.
On Wednesday the Nationals traded for OF Adam Eaton. In return, the White Sox received prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. This trade sent waves throughout the baseball world. Many saw this as a big overpay by the Nationals, as they gave up three prized pitching prospects for Adam Eaton. This is not very fair to Eaton, who finished 15th in WAR for the 2016 season, but the price was still very high for the Nationals.
The perks for them are that they do have a talented player under club control for the next 5 years for only $38.4 million. This was why they opted to trade for Eaton over Andrew McCutchen.
The Adam Eaton trade was almost universally panned. Here's why the Nats did it.https://t.co/wdytCCMBbF
— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) December 8, 2016
But there is a larger point to this move. My reaction to this trade was exactly like Bryce Harper’s: WOW!! I was completely shocked. Sure, it became apparent that the Nationals had soured on Giolito over the last few months, but to trade both him and Lopez is a sign that they are going all in for the next couple of seasons. They are trading a prospect with some potential ace in him, for a cheap center-fielder who could prove to be one of the bigger steals in baseball.
To the larger point, this move has to make baseball fans wonder if the Nationals have quietly resigned to the fact that Bryce Harper won’t sign an extension right now. They would obviously really like to avoid hitting the market, as teams like the Yankees would love to get a meeting with him.
If the Nationals did think that Harper was leaving in two years, they would be wise to go all in right now. Nearly all of their key players can hit free agency in 2018 or 2019. One notable exception is Max Scherzer, but when he signed his mega deal, it did not include a no-trade clause. So the Nationals could move him if they decided to start from scratch if several key stars leave in two or three years time.
The Nationals still have work to do this offseason. They appear to be content with their lineup, and they should be. They plugged the two holes they had entering this winter(catcher, and whichever of SS/CF that Trea Turner isn’t playing). They didn’t get Sale, but they didn’t need him as they will still enter the season with one of the better rotations in the league. They will continue to look for a closer, clearly their biggest weakness now, but other than that they just have some minor tweaks to make to their bench and middle relief spots before they can feel good about themselves heading into spring training.
The past few offseasons have been crazy for the Nationals. They have been in on nearly every key free agent, and have come up short most times. This time they decided to get aggressive and trade a haul of pitching prospects for a good OF who is cheap and under team control for the next half decade. Whether or not that move pays off will be figured out in the next few years. Mike Rizzo has a good track record, so Nats fans should trust him for now.