Washington’s longstanding and as of yet unfinished search for a permanent solution to their center field woes was a big topic around these parts for much of the offseason. Since the season began, however, it’s a topic that has gone largely undiscussed, likely due at least in part to the fact that the team has been performing as well as they have on the field.
Buried deep within his latest Sunday column, The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo suggests that the Nationals may still have some interest in Minnesota’s Denard Span – a player the team has been linked to since last summer:
Leading up to last July’s trade deadline there were rumblings that a deal between Minnesota and Washington involving Span, who at the time was still recovering from a concussion suffered earlier in the summer, were close. MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reported that the Twins were seeking both Storen and infielder Steve Lombardozzi in a potential deal – a price the Nationals ultimately felt was too high. It would appear they may have made the right decision.
Storen has yet to appear in a game for the Nationals this year, after landing on the DL during Spring Training due to a bone chip in his elbow. Barring a setback in his recovery he could return around the All Star Break. His absence, however, has opened the door for Washington to further evaluate some of their other bullpen options – namely Henry Rodriguez. Despite the generally positive signs that continue to be shown by the Washington bullpen, Storen’s absence at the back end has been noticeable.
Meanwhile Lombardozzi has developed into a versatile and vital part of the lineup. He’s appeared at second base, shortstop, and left field on the season. Plus, he’s been receiving the bulk of the at bats at third base in Ryan Zimmerman‘s absence. At the plate he’s batting .333/.410/.389 in 64 plate appearances (20 games), not counting last night’s game against the Phillies. Even with Zimmerman set to return from the DL tomorrow, it seems safe to say that Lombardozzi will continue to receive regular at bats in this Nationals lineup.
The Twins initially placed Span on the DL in early June and he wouldn’t return until just after the trade deadline. He’d again hit the DL two weeks later. Span played sparingly upon his return. In 56 plate appearances (14 games) over the season’s final two months he batted a mere .132/.179/.245. It appears evident that he had not fully recovered from the concussion symptoms and his performance on the field was dramatically affected.
He’s been swinging the bat much better thus far in 2012. Through 115 plate appearances (26 games) he’s batting .308/.357/.383. He hasn’t hit a home run yet, but power has never been a big part of his game. Span appears to be himself again and with the Twins suffering on the field to an AL-worst 7-20 record it may not be out of the question to see the team trade off some of its players in the coming months. Span is signed to a team friendly deal that runs through the 2014 season, so there are no guarantees that he will be one of the ones dealt.
It’s unclear what prompted Cafardo to speculate about such a deal, because he doesn’t give anything away. Perhaps a “source” has lead him to believe that a deal could be discussed once again. Maybe he believes Washington could have interest if they are willing to part with another of their relief pitchers, but are hesitant to make a deal until Storen returns first. It’s possible he’s just pulling this from thin air.
But on paper, the idea just doesn’t seem extraordinarily likely at the moment. First and foremost, the Nationals have received fair production from their center fielders this season. Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel have been receiving the bulk of the at bats in center to date. Bernadina is hitting just .182/.294/.273 in 51 plate appearances (20 games). Ankiel is hitting .309/.333/.473 in 57 plate appearances (18 games). Combined they have a home run and seven RBI. Neither has been a standout at the plate but both have helped their cause by playing well defensively.
To further complicate the situation, with the arrival of Bryce Harper there is yet another option to fill that center field void in the team’s lineup. Harper has been mostly playing left field since making his debut and he will likely continue to spend most of his time in one of the outfield corners over the coming weeks. But once Michael Morse returns (which could be sometime mid-June) it is likely that Harper will spend a fair amount of time in center. Acquiring a center fielder seems unlikely if it means keeping Harper out of the everyday lineup.
Eventually the Nationals will make a move to address their long term needs in center field but a move this summer, especially this early in the season, appears unlikely for a number of reasons. When they do it is entirely possible that a player like Span will be atop the organization’s wish list. But no matter how much reporters like Nick Cafardo insist on speculating that the team is focused on a particular player, there’s no certainty that a deal will end up getting done.