There were a lot of bemusing photos ofAdam Eaton
I resisted the urge to use. // Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
This headline is the less impressive way to describe this trade. Hector Santiago was mostly dynamite (and when not dynamite, unusually blessed with jam-escaping skills) through 23 starts last year (3.51 ERA and a 21.2 K%) and Adam Eaton struggled his way through a season that was shortened to 66 games due to a UCL strain in his throwing elbow, and hit .252/.314/.360 in 2013 after holding up a .382 OBP in his brief 2012 debut.
From a pre-2013 perspective, the White Sox traded a pitcher who walked 40 batters in 70.1 innings despite mostly working in relief for a top-100 outfield prospect who was rated one slot ahead of Avisail Garcia in Baseball America’s prospect rankings. And if we push the dial back on two more years on Santiago, we find someone who was starting the year in High-A for the third season in a row, and this becomes a much clearer story of the White Sox turning an unremarkable pitching talent into the type of outfield prospect with on-base skills (11.5% walk-rate in the minors) that they normally lack access to.
Control problems have kept Santiago’s peripherals mediocre (mid-4.00 for FIP, xFIP and SIERA), he tired at the end of 2013 and didn’t really look impressive after early August, and it’s likely that there was no way to shop him as a commodity as valuable as he seems to be for those who watched his best flashes. As a result, having to buy low on Eaton while selling high on Santiago, does not produce an eye-popping results.
But for the White Sox purposes, this is fine work. An idealized Adam Eaton checks off a lot of areas of need for the Sox:
-Improved centerfield defense
-An OBP-centered offensive player
-Someone they can push their “grindy” compliments on who isn’t Gordon Beckham
Whereas even idealized Hector Santiago becomes replaceable if either Erik Johnson, John Danks or Felipe Paulino steps up and has an above-average season. If that sounds far-fetched, well, it would be best to remember the progression of Hector Santiago.
The White Sox finished fifth in the AL in park-adjusted pitching (by ERA+, and it was essentially a tie for fourth) but lost 99 games because of rancid hitting and defense. They took away from that pitching to improve both of their weaknesses, and by most advanced metrics, the pitcher they traded wasn’t a good bet to help their pitching staff again in 2014. This is sound work, and the excitement should only be muted by doubt on whether Eaton can be the product he’s advertised as.
Eaton’s not particularly well-suited to U.S. Cellular, though sometimes (as in, six hours out of every day of life) I get the feeling that the Sox fanbase has become fatigued of those types of players, and would have blanched at the sight of Mark Trumbo. Eaton’s much too small to generate consistent home run power, and the small outfield is not the best use of his speed; neither on defense nor to make his baserunning as valuable.
Injury and discomfort could easily be the cause for the erosion of his power and some of his discipline in 2013, but it doesn’t completely remove all concern. Steamer and Oliver projections both put Eaton as an above-average hitter with a .350-plus OBP in 2014, but ZiPS has him at .251/.338/.348, and he will have to prove that his well-regarded arm can return completely from his elbow troubles.
Alejandro De Aza gets a worse reputation for being a fast outfielder who can scratch league-average offense from the left side than he deserves, because he did it so hideously in 2013: selling out for power out of the leadoff slot, baserunning gaffes, figure-eight outfield routes, etc. But he’ll turn 30 in April, which is becomingly increasingly less popular on this roster, along with the absence of space between his ceiling and his current production. He has more use on a team that needs to patch holes in their outfield in 2014, and hopefully a returning trade package reflects that value.
Maybe that was always the plan, but this never had to become a choice between Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza if the Sox hadn’t clogged the outlet to give Viciedo DH at-bats with their sentimental signing of Paul Konerko.
And now that I have brought an article about a Hector Santiago-for-Adam Eaton trade all the way around to a grievance about the Konerko deal, /bows, I retire to my bed.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan