The White Sox have designated outfielder Adam Eaton for assignment, the team announced. The move clears a roster space for another outfielder in Adam Engel, who was activated off the 10-day injured list.
Eaton only just returned from the IL himself earlier this week, after missing two weeks with a hamstring strain. However, the White Sox had clearly seen enough from Eaton after he hit only .201/.298/.344 over 219 plate appearances, marking his second straight year of subpar offensive production after a similarly lackluster season with the Nationals in 2020.
That said, it still counts as a bit of a surprise to see the White Sox so abruptly cut ties with Eaton, in part because of the team is still so shorthanded in the outfield with Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez both still on the injured list. Until those stars return (or unless the Sox make a notable trade deadline addition), Chicago will go with a mix of Engel, Andrew Vaughn, Brian Goodwin, Gavin Sheets, Billy Hamilton, and utilitymen Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick as their outfield options.
Beyond the immediate on-field impact, the Sox will now almost surely have to eat the remainder of Eaton’s contract. The outfielder inked a one-year deal worth $8MM in guaranteed money ($7MM salary, $1MM buyout of an $8.5MM club option for 2022) during the offseason, and while Eaton didn’t play well in 2020, it wasn’t a bad investment for the White Sox to make considering his above-average play over the majority of this career. Since it seems quite unlikely that another team will claim Eaton off DFA waivers and absorb the rest of his salary, Chicago’s front office will have to chalk the signing up as a misfire.
While many fans wished for a more substantive outfield addition last winter, the club’s plan of having Robert, Jimenez, and an Eaton/Engel platoon in the outfield (with Vaughn in the wings as an outfield/first base/DH candidate) seemed at least decent on paper, though injuries quickly altered the situation. The White Sox have still build a big lead in the AL Central even despite all their injury woes, but the outfield clearly seems like an area of need heading into the trade deadline.
Since another team would only have to pay Eaton the prorated minimum salary, it seems probable that the veteran will land somewhere else once he clears DFA waivers and is cut loose by the White Sox. Speculatively, a return to Washington might not be out of the question, as the Nationals are in need of outfield help with Kyle Schwarber sidelined by a hamstring injury.