The Nationals mortgaged their future and didn't even fill their biggest offseason need

BY Dieter Kurtenbach • December 14, 2016

Did the Nationals just do that?

Did they just trade away the No. 3 prospect in baseball, the No. 38 prospect in baseball, and their first-round selection from the last draft?

They did.

And in return for that massive package of prospects, the team picked up …

Adam Eaton.

Make no mistake, Eaton is one of baseball’s most underrated players — he hit .290/.362/.422 over the last three years in Chicago was Gold Glove-worthy in right field last season.

There’s a reason he picked up some MVP votes last year.

But the only logical explanation for the Nationals trading Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning — three of the best young arms in baseball — to Chicago is that they thought they were acquiring Chris Sale in return.

According to the Washington Post, those three prospects were the core of the Nationals’ offer to the White Sox for Sale, who was traded to the Red Sox Tuesday for four prospects, including No. 1 overall prospect Yoan Moncada.

The Nationals were also going to include No. 10 overall prospect (No. 2 in their system) Victor Robles in that deal for Sale that was never made.

Robles is one of the hottest prospects in baseball, but is his inclusion in the deal really the difference between Sale and Eaton?

Of course not — and it doesn’t address the Nationals’ most pressing need, either.

There’s no other way to look at it. The White Sox leveraged an arid trade market to fleece the Nationals Wednesday.

It’s understandable why the Nationals would want Eaton. The team desperately needs a center fielder for next season, and Eaton is one of the best outfielders in baseball.

Over the last three seasons, Eaton has been worth 12.7 WAR — 10th in all of baseball and better than Giancarlo Stanton, Alex Gordon, and Jose Bautista per that metric.

That’s the kind of player the Nationals could use to get over the hump in a National League that is becoming more competitive by the day. Remember, the Nats have to deal with the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Mets next year and beyond.

Eaton helps the Nationals next year — Washington was reportedly souring on Giolito's ability to help them in 2017, and there’s no question that Eaton bolsters that lineup in significant ways.

But what about that future?

And what about the bullpen?

After giving up three of their top six players, the Nationals now have only two prospects that project to be better than Major League average — Robles and righty Erick Fedde, who is the No. 75 prospect in baseball and could reach the Majors in 2017.

You could forgive the Nationals for overpaying if Eaton was the final piece the team needed. But Washington still has a glaring hole at closer, and it’s unlikely they’re going to pay Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen what they’re asking for on the free agent market — either could be baseball’s first $100 million reliever, and the Nationals have hinted they’re not interested in spending big money.

So Washington will probably have to give up one of those two remaining impact prospects to land a closer like Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome. This, after trading Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn to Pittsburgh for Mark Melancon on July 30, only to lose him to the Giants in free agency this week.

Over the last six months, the Nationals’ system has gone from one of the best in baseball to one of the worst (and probably getting worse).

They might not have a future outside of the players on their current roster, but they have a center fielder now. That’s good, right?

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