Atlanta Braves free agent rebound candidate for 2021: Adam Eaton

Some interesting names are having their options declined this week that the Atlanta Braves could have interest in for 2021.

It is currently unknown about how the Atlanta Braves would like to configure their outfield for 2021, with a real chance of some significant changes in the offing:

  • CF Ender Inciarte lost favor over the past month with a continued streak of poor performance at the plate, though he’s still under contract for 2021 ($8 million).  For luxury tax purposes, that’s just over $6.1 million.
  • Nick Markakis is a free agent, and while his presence in the clubhouse is not to be overlooked, he’s clearly starting to slow on both sides of the game — offensively and defensively.
  • Adam Duvall, while exhibiting moments of Aaron-like prowess, is still looking a lot more like a platoon and bench candidate than an everyday player.
  • Marcell Ozuna… barring a big surprise, he’s most likely heading for greener pastures.

So an outfield consisting of Ronald Acuna, Cristian Pache, and Adam Duvall is excellent defensively, it may not necessarily be the best offensively… never mind the need for backups and bench help.

That’s why the decision today by the Washington Nationals to decline their option for Adam Eaton raises an eyebrow.

What Eaton Brings

Atlanta Braves

Adam Eaton during 2020 picture day (no photo credit was supplied/USA Today)

Eaton, who’s nearly 32 years old, was the ‘must get’ piece for the Nationals in a questionable trade they made with the White Sox during the Winter of 2016… giving up Lucas Giolito in the process.

While the Nationals won a World Series title with Eaton in 2019 — the year he was most healthy and active with them — he still didn’t really blossom into the player he was with Chicago between 2014 and 2016.

So the question, then, is whether the Atlanta Braves — and Eaton — would consider a platoon role with Duvall for the left-field position.

Duvall hits from the right side, Eaton from the left.  That would provide Eaton with the lion’s share of the ABs.

In 2020, this pair had the following L/R splits:

  • Eaton vs. RHP:  .267/.318/.450/.768 (129 OPS+), 3HR
  • Duval vs. LHP:  .277/.320/.574/.894 (114 OPS+), 3HR*

* of note:  Duvall hit 13 HR vs. RHP (.813 OPS), though his batting average was .224 vs. RHP.  He saw LHP less than 25% of the time in 2020.

They aren’t the same kind of player:  as a former center-fielder Eaton has had some speed, but little power — averaging fewer than 10 homers per year, but nearly as many triples.

Eaton does bring a very good defensive glove, though, and that fits the Atlanta Braves’ playbook very well.

Here’s the rub:  if the Braves still need a “big bat” to sit behind Freddie Freeman in the order, there are precious few actual on-field slots available (unless the Designated Hitter is made a permanent fixture) to place such a bat… and left field would be the most likely candidate.

So here’s the problem Atlanta will face:

  • MLB and the  MLBPA need to decide — fairly quickly — the disposition of the NL DH for 2021.
  • If “no”, then Adam Eaton is almost certainly eliminated as an option for Atlanta.
  • If “yes”, then he’s certainly in play, with a no-field/big bat DH being near the top of Alex Anthopoulos’ shopping list this Winter.
  • Meanwhile: how should they handle Nick Markakis (technically not their choice) and Ender Inciarte?

Then again, maybe they should hoard all of the available “Adams” by also re-signing Matt Adams and making an “Adams Family” theme for 2021.  Or maybe not.

 

Eaton’s declined option for 2021 was worth $10.5 million.  The Nationals have to write him a $1.5 million check to part company — a nice gift after he took home “only” $3.5 million pro-rated dollars of his 2020 contracted amount.

There are other free agents who will definitely be in consideration for Atlanta this off-season… but right off the bat, it appears that some teams — like Washington — are in a mood to make some large changes.  We’ll have to wait to see how the Braves can take advantage.