Why Keuchel went from hesitant to excited about Eaton move originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Dallas Keuchel’s initial reaction to the White Sox bringing back Adam Eaton was probably similar to that of a lot of South Side fans.

Really? The guy who called Drake LaRoche a leader? The guy who got in a fight with Todd Frazier? The guy who was a central figure in the dysfunctional 2016 season that spurred the White Sox into a full-scale rebuild in the first place?

What were the White Sox, heading into a 2021 season with championship expectations, doing bringing back one of the guys they traded to kick start this whole rebuilding thing four years ago?

“I was very hesitant at first when I heard the news,” Keuchel said Wednesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “And that’s nothing on anybody. As a human being, your first response to somebody that you want to sign is either ‘yay’ or it’s ‘nay.’ And I had known around the league about his first tenure with the White Sox.”

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But Keuchel thought about it some more. And aside from obvious benefits Eaton brings from a baseball standpoint — he’s been a consistent producer at the plate when healthy, a solid defender in right field and now owns a World Series ring after picking up some big hits during the 2019 postseason — Keuchel feels Eaton’s second chance will result in him being a valuable addition to the White Sox clubhouse.

“That was also a different culture, a different time in White Sox baseball,” Keuchel said of the 2016 dysfunction featuring Eaton and plenty of others. “I think a lot of guys in their second go-round, either with teams or in the league, have a different appeal about them, a different rapport with their teammates. If (Eaton’s former Washington Nationals teammate) Howie Kendrick is going to say he’s a pretty good teammate, one of the best teammates he ever had, then hopefully he’s turned around the corner.

“Nobody can deny the facts of Adam Eaton the ballplayer on the field, and that’s what I think ultimately drove the front office to signing him. But you’ve got to give people a second chance. There’s other sources that probably accounted for some of that clubhouse debacle or decay. So we’ll wait and see, but there is a lot of leadership right now.

“And who knows, the second chance with people usually goes the right way. And I’m thinking he’s going to fit right in with us. We’re really excited. That’s another piece to add to an already deep lineup.”

It still remains to be seen what the White Sox have planned for Eaton. The team hasn’t announced the move yet, and general manager Rick Hahn declined to speak on any unannounced moves when he met the media Tuesday. Eaton’s done enough in his career, from a production standpoint, to earn the everyday job in right field, which is vacant after Nomar Mazara disappointed during the 2020 campaign. But Adam Engel made some serious strides offensively in 2020 and could factor into the mix in some fashion. Indeed, given Eaton’s history of significant injuries during his four years in Washington, it wouldn’t hurt to have a backup plan.

Keuchel’s envisioning where Eaton would land in the White Sox batting order and sees his presence as a plus for a team that already established itself as one of the best offensive clubs in baseball this past season.

“We need guys that are in the lineup every day, that want to put their name in the lineup every day and play hard. You need those gritty guys to round out a lineup,” Keuchel said. “He’s been a guy that’s been leadoff, he’s been bottom third of the lineup. He’s got some pop, but he does hustle. You can put him anywhere.

“Even if you put him (in the) 9-hole, I think that’s a great 9-1 transition to (leadoff man Tim Anderson). And hopefully (Yoán) Moncada gets back to himself, to his potential, so you could potentially have Moncada at 2, and 9-1-2 is like having a 1-2-3. And then obviously you’ve got the Bambino, the MVP in (José) Abreu. So there’s a lot of options for (new manager Tony La Russa).”

Plenty of White Sox fans will still remain skeptical, unable to shake the memories of 2016 until new ones are created in 2021. But Keuchel and the White Sox are willing to give Eaton another shot. The Athletic’s James Fegan even reported that the front office consulted White Sox who played with Eaton in 2016, a small contingent that includes Abreu and Anderson.

The feelings of the players don’t need to be mimicked by the fan base. But those players care a great deal about winning, about meeting the championship expectations set for the 2021 season. If they feel Eaton can fit in helping them do that, then perhaps the fans will end up following suit.

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