Well, not even an hour after I speculated on the Nationals being in the mix for Michael Bourn, they came out of nowhere to announce they have acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins to likely fill in the center field and leadoff spots.
The price came pretty steep as the Nationals had to trade top pitching prospect Alex Meyer who was marked as top-5 in the Nationals system prior to the 2012 season. Meyer is a right hander and was a first round pick in 2011. However, scouts think that he was at the top of a bare-bones system after most of the Nationals top prospects went to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez and if the Nationals had a position of strength of which to trade from, starting pitching is it.
I actually love this trade, especially given the alternatives as we have talked about since the season ended. This is a low-cost addition with minimal risk and minimal long-term commitment. Basically, Span is a very good center fielder for 2013 and if Brian Goodwin is Major League ready sooner rather than later, Span isn’t a liability wherever the Nationals decide to put him.
Span signed a four year extension in 2010 with Minnesota and is owed $4.75 million in 2013 and $6.5 million in 2014. There is a club option for 2015 of $9 million. This is much more manageable than any free agent signing would have been and Span is only 28 years old. Span hit .283/.342/.395 last season and was 17/23 in stolen bases. Bill James predicts a slight improvement on that with him going .284/.357/.389. What you see is what you get and Span is a solid leadoff hitter at a very manageable price.
He missed about 25 games last year with various shoulder injuries but it does not appear to be a reoccurring problem and shows no signs of being injury prone. Span, of course had to deal with Target Field as a home field but it didn’t seem to affect him. He actually hit around 100 points better at home (332 to 235) even though Target Field plays pretty neutral.
Span’s best seasons actually came in his first two seasons of his Major League career in 2008 and 2009. He struggled a bit in 2010 and 2011 but in 2012 showed a little improvement which the Nationals see continuing to trend upwards. Span is definitely an improvement over who the Nationals had penciled in without any moves and I think he is better than Shane Victorino and Will Venable who I had as potential center fielders for the team. Span wasn’t on my radar but would have been if I had known he was a possible target. He fits all of the points that GM Mike Rizzo was looking for and now he could focus on the first base situation and adding a starting pitcher.
The Nationals showed last year that they are not scared to trade prospects for quality players. Span is that, and while losing Meyer hurts the system, it makes the team better today. This looks like a very fair trade as the Twins are in rebuilding mode and the Nationals are looking to take the next step.