Loverro: A tweet, trade and strate­gic gam­ble for the Na­tion­als.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - THOM LOVERRO

Shortly af­ter the news broke Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon that the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als had traded two of their top pitch­ing prospects to the Chicago White Sox for out­fielder Adam Ea­ton, Bryce Harper tweeted,

“Wow.”

Not ex­actly, “Where’s my ring,” is it?

Now, Harper could have meant all sorts of things by that, none of them re­lated to his team’s trade for Ea­ton. He could have been walk­ing by a mir­ror, got a look at him­self, and said, “Wow.”

But based on his Twit­ter feed, the re­sponses that fol­lowed in­ter­preted it as a re­ac­tion — a neg­a­tive one — to his team trad­ing such val­ued young pitch­ers like Lu­cas Gi­olito and Rey­naldo Lopez, along with another young pitcher, Dane Dun­ning, for ... well ... Adam

Ea­ton.

Harper must have re­al­ized that as well, be­cause about 15 min­utes later he tweeted, “Wel­come to DC A.E! Let’s get it done #na­tion­als.”

You can cer­tainly un­der­stand Harper’s ini­tial re­ac­tion. It was the same one many in the busi­ness of base­ball had, as well as fans.

It wasn’t the typ­i­cal re­ac­tion to a trade by Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo. The usual re­sponse to a Rizzo deal is some­thing like this: “Nats could be big win­ner in 3-team trade” read the head­line when Rizzo got Trea Turner and Joe Ross two years ago from the San Diego Padres while just giv­ing up Steven Souza to Tampa in the three-team trans­ac­tion.

“They are the clear win­ner. Not even close,” one base­ball ex­ec­u­tive told Fox Sports.

As we all know from watch­ing Trea “Ty Cobb” Turner this past sea­son, that has proven to be the case.

Or this re­ac­tion: “Na­tion­als steal Doug Fis­ter from Tigers,” read one head­line the year be­fore, when Rizzo traded in­fielder Steve Lom­bar­dozzi and young pitch­ing prospects Rob­bie Ray and Ian Krol to Detroit in ex­change for start­ing pitcher Doug Fis­ter.

That was ac­cu­rate as well, if not as dra­mat­i­cally so. Fis­ter won 16 games for Wash­ing­ton in 2014, help­ing the Na­tion­als win the Na­tional League East ti­tle, though he was plagued with in­juries the year af­ter, go­ing 5-7 and was not re­signed. None of the play­ers the Na­tion­als gave up have since made them re­gret los­ing the trio.

This time the re­ac­tion is dif­fer­ent. “Adam Ea­ton for Lu­cas Gi­olito ‘Wow’ Trade Could Come Back to Haunt Na­tion­als,” read one Bleacher Re­port head­line.

“The Na­tion­als mort­gaged their fu­ture and didn’t even fill their big­gest off­sea­son need,” read the Fox Sports head­line.

That need would be closer, and the salt in the wounds of Na­tion­als fans came a few hours later when Aroldis Chap­man — a re­ported Na­tion­als tar­get — signed an $86 mil­lion deal with the New York Yan­kees.

You can un­der­stand why Na­tion­als fans feel wounded. The talk all week dur­ing the winter meet­ings was about sur­ren­der­ing the likes of a Gi­olito and Lopez in re­turn for Cy Young award­win­ning starter Chris Sale, a deal that seemed like far more bang for your back. Then to turn around and trade those same chips dan­gled in the Sale talks for Ea­ton? Of course it was a let­down.

What may have hap­pened, though, is that Ea­ton, not Sale, may have been Wash­ing­ton’s pri­mary tar­get in the trade dis­cus­sions with Chicago. Go­ing into the winter meet­ings, the Na­tion­als front of­fice had doubts they could put to­gether a pack­age to get Sale.

When the Na­tion­als ac­quired Fis­ter, they had been in talks with Detroit about trad­ing for Max Scherzer, now a Na­tion­als starter but then com­ing off a 21-win Cy Young sea­son with the Tigers. Detroit knew that Scherzer, be­ing a Scott Bo­ras client, would be­come a free agent a year later and were en­ter­tain­ing trade talks for him.

But Wash­ing­ton, in the game of horse trad­ing, ac­tu­ally had Fis­ter in mind all along, and be­lieved this process would re­duce the pack­age they would have to of­fer Detroit to get Fis­ter.

So Ea­ton, not Sale, may have been Wash­ing­ton’s tar­get all along — which means this may have not been a des­per­ate change of di­rec­tion, but their cal­cu­lated strat­egy.

“You’ve got to give to get,” gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo told re­porters Wed­nes­day. “We cer­tainly got what we wanted in Adam Ea­ton. The White Sox should and do feel good about what they ac­quired in this.”

I doubt if that will make Na­tion­als fans feel any bet­ter. If this was a strate­gic mis­di­rec­tion, it cer­tainly didn’t ap­pear to re­duce the price they paid for Ea­ton.

The re­ac­tion by Na­tion­als fans is a re­sult of be­ing told by the or­ga­ni­za­tion for sev­eral years now about the po­ten­tial for Gi­olito in par­tic­u­lar, their No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.

A year ago, when Rizzo an­nounced the 6-foot-6, 250-pound right-han­der, who had Tommy John surgery for torn el­bow lig­a­ments shortly af­ter be­ing drafted, would be in­vited to spring train­ing, the gen­eral man­ager told re­porters, “We ex­pect big things from Lu­cas Gi­olito, not only in 2016 but down the road also.”

They did. Wash­ing­ton had hoped that both Gi­olito and Lopez would be key con­trib­u­tors com­ing out of the bullpen late this past sea­son and into the post­sea­son. Lopez was in­con­sis­tent, and Gi­olito — once con­sid­ered one of the top pitch­ing prospects in all of base­ball — was worse. He ap­peared to have lost sig­nif­i­cant ve­loc­ity off his fast­ball and strug­gled, giv­ing up 16 earned runs in 211⁄3 in­nings pitched in six ma­jor league ap­pear­ances.

Still, pack­ag­ing both of them in a trade for an out­fielder whose great­est claim to fame in five ma­jor league sea­sons is the Amer­i­can League co-leader in triples last sea­son, with nine, seems like a high price.

Ea­ton, 28, is a good, con­sis­tent player. In 619 at bats last year, he had 176 hits, 29 dou­bles, 14 home runs, scored 91 runs, drove in 59 runs and stole 14 bases while bat­ting .284. It’s al­most a car­bon copy of what he did the year be­fore — in 610 at bats, 175 hits, 28 dou­bles, nine triples, 14 home runs, 98 runs scored, 56 RBI and 18 stolen bases.

He is a solid out­fielder who can play cen­ter or the cor­ner po­si­tions, with a team-friendly con­tract — five more years of con­trol at a cost of $38.4 mil­lion, or less than 10 per­cent of what it may take to keep the Min­is­ter of Fun here in Wash­ing­ton.

Wow.

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