A very controversial trade from last offseason was the Nationals’ acquisition of outfielder Adam Eaton from the rebuilding Chicago White Sox. The South Siders had just traded their superstar starter Chris Sale to Boston, signaling a full teardown and rebuild.
At the time of the trade, one of the big narratives was that the Nationals gave up A LOT of top-notch prospects for Eaton, and perhaps overpaid. Over the past year, this deal has been repeatedly referred to as the hallmark of a “good prospect haul” for a rebuilding team flipping one of their best players with a team-friendly contract.
The parallel was made between what the White Sox got in the Eaton deal and what the Marlins might be looking for in a similar asset in Christian Yelich. This begs the question; “How good was the haul the Marlins got when compared to the Eaton trade?”
How similar were these two players at the time of the trade? How similar are the prospect packages that the White Sox and Marlins obtained? Let’s take a look.
Eaton had just turned 28 at the time of the deal. Eaton’s contract: $19.9M over the first three seasons of his contract plus two years of club options that total $38.4M over five years.
The two years prior to the trade, he had two almost identical seasons. He averaged 155 games played. His stats:
2015: 14 HR, 56 RBI, 98 Runs, .287 BA, .361 OBP, .431 SLG, .792 OPS, 18 SB, 3.8 fWAR 2016: 14 HR, 59 RBI, 91 Runs, .284 BA, .362 OBP, .428 SLG, .790 OPS, 14 SB, 6.2 fWAR
Why the nearly identical offensive stats with the large jump in WAR? This was largely due to a defensive adjustment rating which did a 180 degree turn: from -8.8 in 2015 to +18 in 2016. Eaton was second in Defensive Run Saved in 2016 with 22, per FanGraphs. He finished second in Gold Glove voting that year.
Eaton averaged of a 5.0 fWAR and a 119 wRC+ over the two seasons.
Yelich has just turned 26. He is owed $43.3M over the next four seasons. He has a one-year club option as well, which gives his contract a total of $58.25M over five years.
The two years prior to the trade, Yelich also had two almost identical seasons. He averaged 155.5 games played. His stats:
2016: 21 HR, 98 RBI, 78 Runs, .298 BA, .361 OBP, .483 SLG, .859 OPS, 9 SB, 4.5 fWAR 2017: 18 HR, 81 RBI, 100 Runs, .282 BA, .362 OBP, .439 SLG, .807 OPS, 16 SB, 4.5 fWAR
Yelich won a Gold Glove in 2014, and was a finalist in 2016.
Yelich averaged a 4.5 fWAR and a 123 wRC+ for the two years prior to his trade.
The two outfielders have somewhat different strengths, but have similar “big picture” advanced offensive stats and are both very good defensive outfielders. At the time of the trades, Yelich was slightly younger, but both can be said to have a reasonably similar contracts in that they are both affordable five-year deals, with club options embedded in them.
So, with that established, what about the return? Let’s be careful to evaluate both trades based only at the evidence available at the time they happened.
Adam Eaton’s haul
The White Sox obtained (rankings were at the time of the trade):
Lucas Giolito, RHP: #3 overall MLB Pipeline prospect, #1 Nationals Prospect
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP: #38 overall MLB Pipeline prospect, #3 Nationals Prospect
Dan Dunning, RHP: #6 Nationals Prospect
Christian Yelich’s haul
The Marlins obtained (Fangraphs scouting article on the prospects here):
Lewis Brinson, OF: #27 overall MLB Pipeline prospect (2018), #1 Brewers Prospect
Monte Harrison, OF: #71 overall MLB Pipeline prospect (2018), #4 Brewers Prospect
Isan Diaz, IF: #86 overall MLB Pipeline prospect (2017), #16 Brewers Prospect
Jordan Yamamoto, RHP: unranked
The featured players?
One can certainly squabble over the differences in value between Adam Eaton and Christian Yelich at the time of their franchise-changing trades. However, as mentioned above, they are reasonably similar in terms of what they brought to their club prior to being dealt.
I would personally give the edge to the younger Yelich largely due to his age, though his contract is roughly $15M more expensive over the five-year deal.
Look, this is not a blinded study. We are all aware that Eaton tore his ACL in 2017 and only played 23 games in his first year with the Nats, but no one knew that at the time of the deal. Are we sure that Yelich will play over 150 games in 2018?
Well, Brinson isn’t as highly ranked as Giolito was, but he is major league ready in a position of OBVIOUS need to the Fish, albeit a need the Marlins themselves created.
The top two prospects that the ChiSox obtained were seen as having a somewhat higher ceiling than the top two prospects that the Marlins obtained per MLB Pipeline.
The White Sox obtained three pitchers. The Marlins obtained two outfielders, an infielder and a pitcher. The Fish obtained four players instead of three.
If the Marlins entered the Yelich trade talks looking for an overpay, well maybe, maybe not. Did they at least a prospect group similar to what the White Sox got in the Eaton trade? I feel that they did that.
As with all trades, call me in (at least) five years. Then (maybe) we can start making conclusions.
Which prospect package would you rather have?
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