Adam Eaton is a free agent for the first time in his career after the Nationals declined his team option for next season, but former teammate Howie Kendrick doesn’t expect him to remain unemployed for long.
“I feel like Adam brought a lot to the table [in Washington], and any team is going to be lucky to have him,” Kendrick told NBC Sports Chicago. “And I sure as heck enjoyed playing with him. I told him after the season, ‘Don’t worry, there’s going to be a bunch of people giving you a call,’ because of the way he goes about the game. And given the game today with all the analytics, I’m very fond of having old-school guys that can teach the game and understand the game and know how to play all facets of the game.”
Eaton, 32, had a $10.5 million team option for 2021. The Nationals opted to pay his $1.5 million buyout instead in order to look elsewhere for a corner outfielder to play opposite Juan Soto next year. It marked the end of a four-year run for Eaton in the nation’s capital.
Washington originally acquired him in a blockbuster trade that saw Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning go the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Eaton and his team-friendly contract. Though injuries limited him to just one full season in D.C., Eaton posted a .784 OPS with 204 runs scored and 30 stolen bases over 310 regular season games.
He also came through for them in the playoffs, hitting .320 with two home runs in the 2019 World Series to help the Nationals win their first title in franchise history. But the Nationals saw little offensive production out of Eaton as well as most of their hitters not named Soto or Trea Turner in 2020, setting up an offseason with a long list of needs to address.
Kendrick, who is a free agent himself after the Nationals declined their half of his mutual option, said he was surprised Washington decided not to bring Eaton back.
“Yeah, I was a little bit,” Kendrick said, “but at the same time I understand the game, as well, with an influx of young players that [the Nationals] are trying to move forward, as well. Not that Adam didn’t mean the world to the Nationals because of what we’ve done there.”
Eaton and Kendrick were among the Nationals’ veteran leaders in the clubhouse. The pair formed a friendship that was on full display every time one of them hit a home run. When one of them went yard, the other was waiting at the end of the dugout to hop on the bench together for “clutch and drive,” where they pretended to shift racecars into gear with full sound effects.
The Nationals could still bring back Eaton at a cheaper price, though their offseason plan remains unclear following conflicting rumors over the level of interest they have in top free agents and trade targets. For now, Kendrick is stumping for someone to go out and sign Eaton.
“When I was playing against him, he’s that guy that rubs you wrong a little bit,” Kendrick said. “But once you get on a team with him, he’s probably one of the best teammates, if not the best teammate that I’ve ever had.”