On first view, the intriguing package the Chicago White Sox received in their trade with the Washington Nationals for outfielder Adam Eaton appears to be a bountiful one, with top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez heading to the American League, where they can eventually become aces. But for fantasy owners, the trade should be a reminder of the goal that many real teams live by: to win now.
Eaton, while a modest fantasy option, helps the Nationals win now. He is also more valuable for fantasy purposes; fantasy owners love the prospects, but most do not pan out. It’s often a harsh reality to remember.
Giolito and Lopez still project to have bright futures, as a pair of hard-throwing right-handers who figure to be in Chicago's rotation at some point this season. But the move from the National League to the American League certainly isn't a positive. Neither is the switch in home ballparks or the fact they've moved to an organization that is rebuilding. The White Sox aren’t playoff-bound in 2017.
Frankly, I was targeting neither Giolito nor Lopez for anything but the deepest redraft fantasy leagues, and now that they’re more likely to pitch ... nothing has changed on that front. In dynasty formats, hold on and hope for the best. In 2018.
With Eaton, the No. 27 outfielder on the 2016 Player Rater, the key here will be about lineup placement. The Nationals have a pretty significant leadoff hitter in Trea Turner, who will now move from center field back to the position he was supposed to play, shortstop. But Eaton, who bats left-handed, should push Turner down to the No. 2 spot, so that Turner's right-handed bat splits Eaton and lefties Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper. That would seem to make sense, and it would keep his value intact as a prime table-setter who is perhaps more valuable in real life than fantasy.
Eaton’s fantasy value is mainly tied to scoring runs, which he has done quite a bit the past two seasons. He has never hit 15 home runs or reached 20 stolen bases in a big league season and doesn't seem likely to after this trade. He gets on base, thanks to a career .284 batting average with solid walk rates, and provides double-digits in power and steals. Plus, only 13 other players managed to score 90 or more runs each of the past two seasons, and most fantasy owners overlook that category.
Well, that’s a mistake. There’s value in reliability. There’s value in five-category aid, even if it’s not a ton of home runs or steals. I can’t say Eaton is more valuable for fantasy today than he was before the trade, nor can I say he’s a definite top-100 guy for the 2017 rankings. But you know what you’re getting -- it’s not Mike Trout, but it’s not bad, given what you invest to acquire him.
And let this be a reminder for those in dynasty/keeper formats that winning now with a sure thing always beats possibly winning later.
As for others affected in this transaction, the back end of the Chicago rotation wasn’t helping fantasy owners anyway. Carson Fulmer is another hard-throwing right-hander on the verge of mattering, but he certainly is not a sure thing. The White Sox are likely to move lefty Jose Quintana and would give James Shields away, but ultimately, fantasy owners would be better served taking proven talent in one-year, 10- or 12-team formats. Too much risk here.
As for the Nationals, Turner is going to be a second- or third-round pick regardless of position, but it is nice knowing he’ll add shortstop eligibility once he plays his 10th game of 2017. For now, he’s eligible at second base and outfield. Assuming the lineup goes Eaton-Turner, their on-base abilities obviously aid the RBI projections for Murphy and Harper. With Harper, there's a clear difference in how he's viewed. First-round pick or avoid at all costs? I'm not avoiding Harper.