Adam Eaton fell just short of qualifying for major-league leaderboards in 2020 because he played 44 games. He was 10 plate appearances behind the qualifiers.
So, for this experiment, let’s slot him in: Eaton’s .669 OPS would rank last among regulars in right field, 10 points behind Joey Gallo. Among right fielders with a minimum of 150 plate appearances, Eaton was 26th in OPS.
Those are important numbers when trying to determine whether Eaton will stay in Washington for the final year of his contract or be sent into free agency. Another one is $10.5 million. That’s how much his final season would cost if the Nationals pick up the option they hold on his contract.
So, the simple terms of a complicated formula are as follows: Can they receive better production for less money? At those numbers, the answer is “probably,” which means Eaton’s time in Washington is creeping to a close.
“It’s been a wacky year, odd season,” Eaton said after breaking his finger late in the year. “I don’t want to look too far ahead because I’ll drive myself crazy with that. This organization has been nothing but good to me. From the security guard that greets me in the morning to the Lerner family, some of the best people I have ever met.
“For a 60-game season to settle my fate for next year is kind of crappy. I try to be as consistent as I can for this team when I am on the field. It’s unfortunate but it’s kind of how the year is going.”
Unfortunately for Eaton, he was not often on the field since arriving in a hefty 2016 trade with the Chicago White Sox. A torn ACL in his left knee derailed his first season just 23 games into it. He played 95 the following year before making it onto the field for a full season (151 games) in 2019, a rough first three rounds of the playoffs and exceptional World Series. He maxed out at 2.3 fWAR, which put him in the middle of the pack in 2019. Which means Eaton was an average right fielder in Washington at his peak.
This offseason market will be one with reduced salaries. The well-heeled owners will complain about losses incurred during the regular season (skipping the pay cuts players took). Their unwillingness to spend will suppress the market. So, the Nationals’ calculus around Eaton will be influenced by value buys. It’s the reason he was traded for in the first place. Now, his production and cost have flipped, making 2020 the likely end for him with the Nationals.