Dec 10: The White Sox have formally announced the signing via a press release, tweets James Fegan of the Athletic.
Dec 8: The White Sox have brought a familiar face back to the South Side, as NBC Sports Chicago’s Chuck Garfien (Twitter link) reports that the Sox have signed outfielder Adam Eaton to a one-year, $7MM contract. The deal contains a club option worth $8.5MM for the 2022 season, with MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reporting that the option has a $1MM buyout. Eaton is represented by Diamond Sports Management.
Eaton previously played for the White Sox from 2014-16, emerging as a reliable and productive everyday outfielder over those three seasons. With Chicago embarking on a rebuild, Eaton was traded to the Nationals almost exactly four years ago to the day in a very notable deal that brought the Sox a trio of young arms — Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning, and Reynaldo Lopez.
Flash forward to today and Giolito is the ace of Chicago’s staff, Lopez is on the roster though perhaps looking at a move to the bullpen after struggling as a starter, and Dunning was just traded to the Rangers yesterday in the swap that brought Lance Lynn to Guaranteed Rate Field. Between adding Lynn and Eaton within 24 hours, the White Sox have now checked two notable items off their offseason to-do list.
After Nomar Mazara didn’t produce much in 2020, the White Sox were known to be looking at outfield help, with such names as Michael Brantley and Joc Pederson linked to the team. (USA Today’s Bob Nightengale also reported this morning that Eaton was “on their radar.”) With Eloy Jimenez in left field and Luis Robert in center, Eaton will be slated for right field, his regular position over the last three years in Washington. Adam Engel, coming off a strong 2020 season, now looks to be set for fourth outfielder duty, though the right-handed hitting Engel could spell the left-handed hitting Eaton when a southpaw is on the mound.
Eaton’s lefty bat will provide some balance to a White Sox lineup that leans to the right, though Eaton will be looking to rebound from his worst offensive season as a starter. He hit .226/.285/.384 over 176 plate appearances for the Nats last season, with his lowest walk rate (6.8%) since 2013. Between this lack of hitting and a tough year defensively (-6.1 UZR/150, -6 Defensive Runs Saved over 335 innings in right field), Eaton was a sub-replacement level player, with -0.5 fWAR. These numbers led the Nationals to decline their club option on Eaton’s services for 2021, instead buying him out for $1.5MM.
The White Sox are clearly hoping that Eaton’s struggles were due to the abbreviated and unusual nature of the 2020 season, and that he’ll produce something closer to his usual numbers (.289/.367/.423 over 3066 PA from 2014-19) under somewhat more normal circumstances next season. The one-year deal doesn’t represent a huge investment on Chicago’s part to see if the 32-year-old Eaton can bounce back, and by signing Eaton rather than investing in a more expensive option like Brantley or Pederson, the Sox now theoretically have more money to spend on other potential roster moves later in the winter.