There's rarely this much concern that a new acquisition is going to wreak havoc on a clubhouse.
But White Sox fans remember what happened the last time Adam Eaton played on the South Side.
Eaton was a part, though certainly not the only part, of the dysfunction inside the White Sox clubhouse during a 2016 season that went poorly to the point that by the end of it, the team launched into a full-scale rebuilding project.
Again, Eaton was a featured player but not the only one. For his part, he stepped into the middle of the Drake LaRoche firestorm, saying in an interview that the White Sox "lost a leader" in the 14-year-old kid who hung around the team. Later in the year, he reportedly came to blows with teammate Todd Frazier.
Four years later, he's back. And White Sox fans are fretting that it's all going to happen again.
The White Sox are not. Not even close. They wouldn't have made the move if they were. And according to The Athletic, the front office even consulted guys who played alongside Eaton in 2016 — that's a small contingent these days, one including team leaders José Abreu and Tim Anderson — before finalizing the one-year free-agent deal that was announced Thursday.
The truth is that four years, in baseball terms, is a long time. Since Eaton was shipped off to the Washington Nationals in one of the trio of big trades that kickstarted the rebuild, the White Sox have constructed a talented roster from the ground up and a brand-new clubhouse culture to go with it. Eaton, meanwhile, spent four years in D.C., winning a World Series ring in 2019.
There's been an awful lot of change. One of the things that hasn't gone away, though, has been Eaton's consistent production at the plate. And so both with that change and that consistency in mind, the White Sox felt comfortable bringing a part of that 2016 chaos back into the fold ahead of a 2021 season with championship expectations.
"In terms of any concerns with clubhouse fit, I know that’s out there, I know that narrative is out there. It really isn’t a concern for those of us who were with Adam during his first tenure with the White Sox, much less those of us who have been around this clubhouse over the last few years," general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday.
"Sure, during the first tenure, from time to time, he might have said a few things that rubbed people the wrong way. But it came from the nature of that competitiveness, of that desire to prove that he belonged and that he was a winner. Now, Adam, obviously, when he was traded away, he went to a different situation and validated the fact that he was a winner. He has a ring to show for it.
"We have a very strong clubhouse culture here. That was one of the things that adding certain veterans helped contribute over the last 12 months. It’s one of the things that our coaches have striven for over the course of this rebuild. And it’s one of the things that growing your own has helped us allowed to instill in the clubhouse.
"I think not only is the clubhouse very different from what it was several years ago when Adam was here first, I think Adam is slightly different than what he was a few years ago."
That's not likely to put the issue to bed for worried fans outside the organization, and it's on Eaton to act in a way that doesn't create any negative headlines, just like it's on him to prove he can stay healthy and that a woeful stat line during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was an outlier.
"Everyone matures differently and at different stages of their life, and I feel like I’m no different," Eaton said. "There were a number of things (during the four years with the Nationals) that transformed me, to realize that the team is No. 1, the players within the team are right up there with it and you want to take care of one another, play for each other and win a championship at the end."
But while plenty of folks will continue to scratch their heads and wonder why the White Sox went back to the Eaton well, the team is happy to know what it's getting. As White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel said Wednesday, "Nobody can deny the facts of Adam Eaton the ballplayer on the field." Eaton's been a consistent producer at the plate, a solid defender in right field and brings championship experience from his recent World Series run.
He also brings the thing that, to borrow Hahn's words, "rubbed people wrong way." The general manager called it an edge. And his team is happy to have it.
"He plays with an edge. He’s got a chip on his shoulder," Hahn said. "He’s a guy who has always been doubted and plays with that kind of an edge of trying to prove to you and prove to everyone that those doubts are unfounded. We like that competitiveness, and we also know that edge or the way he approaches the game is aimed at trying to beat you. That’s a positive.
"Quite frankly, I think we are all looking forward to adding a little bit more of that edge and fire into that clubhouse."
Much like any lingering consternation over the team's decision to hire Tony La Russa as its new manager, White Sox fans' feelings over this offseason's latest South Side reunion aren't likely to change wildly because of a few answers in a press conference. But the White Sox have made it clear why both Eaton and La Russa are here: to win.
And if that's what happens in 2021 — without the kinds of behind-the-scenes fireworks that defined the final year of Eaton's first go-round with the White Sox — then any remaining frowns will get turned upside down.