WASHINGTON -- The Nationals played unofficial host for the 2016 Winter Meetings, as the event was held just outside of D.C. at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. So it was only fitting that they were right in the middle of seemingly every major move during the most memorable
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals played unofficial host for the 2016 Winter Meetings, as the event was held just outside of D.C. at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. So it was only fitting that they were right in the middle of seemingly every major move during the most memorable Winter Meetings in team history.
The eventual prize for Washington was pulling off a trade for Adam Eaton that involved shipping three of its top prospects to the White Sox in exchange for the center fielder. The trade represented the most aggressive unloading of prospects in the tenure of Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
Eaton, however, was not the only target for the Nationals, who were searching for the piece they believed would help them move from playoff contender to World Series contender. Washington cycled through a number of options.
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"We've got a lot of lines in the water," Rizzo often repeated that week, sometimes substituted with "irons in the fire" or "balls in the air."
At the start of the 2016 Winter Meetings, the Nats were heavily connected to Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and many believed they would find a way to finalize a deal for the former National League Most Valuable Player at some point during the week. Their focus quickly pivoted, however, when the White Sox began fielding serious offers for left-hander Chris Sale.
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The Nationals did not have a huge need for a starting pitcher, but Sale represented a unique opportunity to bolster a staff that also included Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. It could have formed one of the most dominant starting rotations in recent memory, so that was enough for Rizzo to dangle some of his best prospects.
"The caliber of pitcher available isn't often bandied about in the trade market," Rizzo said at the time.
Meanwhile, during all this trade talk, the Nats were also hunting for a proven closer. They missed out on one during the Winter Meetings when Mark Melancon signed with the Giants after they outbid the Nationals on the free agent market. Eventually, the Red Sox would enter in and pull off the trade for Sale and there was a real possibility that the Nats would leave the Winter Meetings empty-handed.
But those initial conversations with the White Sox would prove beneficial for later trade discussions. The teams had already exchanged prospects and terms they would agree on, which made the next discussion go much smoother. And once the White Sox traded Sale, Eaton figured he might soon follow.
"It was like, 'Oh boy, here we go,'" Eaton said.
A day later, the Nationals pulled off one of the biggest trades in team history. They acquired Eaton by trading away three of their then top six prospects -- Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. The price the Nats paid has been debated since the completion of the trade, with many shocked at how much Washington surrendered for a player who had never been an All-Star or considered a superstar.
"Adam fit our club perfectly," Rizzo said after the trade. "Left-handed bat, balanced our lineup, high-energy guy, edge to him, plays the game the right way, good hitter, good defensive player both in center field and outstanding in the corner, a productive player throughout his career. We see the arrow still going up with him."
Whether the deal will prove to be worth it for the Nationals is still to be determined. Eaton had an excellent first month in Washington before he tore his ACL at the end of April. Lopez and Giolito both pitched for Chicago this season but still have very little Major League experience. But Eaton was the prize after arguably the busiest Winter Meetings in Nationals history, one they were happy to have.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.