After a surprising 2012 campaign, the Nationals appear to be positioning themselves for another strong season in 2013, and they made a move toward off-season improvement on Thursday by acquiring veteran outfielder Denard Span
from the Minnesota Twins. In exchange for Span, the Twins received righthanded pitching prospect Alex Meyer
, who finished his 2012 season with the High-A Potomac club.
Washington was looking to acquire a centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the upcoming season, but most signs pointed to the club reaching a deal with speedy free agent outfielder and former Atlanta Braves leadoff man Michael Bourn
. Instead, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo
opted for Span.
Rizzo expressed excitement about bringing Span to Washington, noting that he liked his make-up and that the team had scouted him and determined that he was a fit for what the club needed: "He's a confident leadoff type of hitter. He appeals greatly to us because of his skill set as an offensive player." (quotes via SB Nation's Federal Baseball
). Rizzo also praised Span's defense: "You're talking about a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range."
The 28 year-old Span has played 589 major league games (all with the Twins) and is coming off of a solid 2012 campaign in which he hit .283 with a .342 on-base percentage, a .395 slugging percentage, and 17 stolen bases (6 caught) in 568 plate appearances. Those numbers are in line with his career marks of a .284/.357/.389 (AVG/OBP/SLG) but after hitting .305 with a .390 on-base mark and a .422 slugging percentage in his first two seasons in Minnesota (2008 and 2009), he's managed just a .271/.334/.367 since then. His overall production is heavily reliant on health (he played just 70 games in 2011) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) which was .348 in those first two MLB years of 2008 and 2009, but just .302 in the three seasons after that.
In addition to his work at the plate, Span has also emerged as one of the game's best defensive centerfielders, and his ultimate zone rating (UZR, via Fangraphs) ranked only behind Michael Bourn in 2012
. In acquiring a top-tier defender to roam in center field, the Nationals can avoid the need for 20 year-old phenom and 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Bryce Harper
to play there, allowing him to be their full-time rightfielder.
With Span as the starting centerfielder, Harper as the starting rightfielder, and veteran slugger Jayson Werth
as the starting leftfielder, the Nats appear to strengthen their outfield both defensively and offensively, though this current setup also has ramifications for other off-season moves. With outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse
still under contract, it's quite likely that the club will make him their full-time first baseman and break off negotiations with 2012 starting first baseman Adam LaRoche
, who cracked 33 home runs in probably the best season of his nine-year major league career. It's possible that Morse could be dealt and LaRoche re-signed, but that situation is certainly very different after Thursday's deal.
Financially, Span is set to make $4.75 million in 2013 and $6.5 million in 2014, and in 2015 the club has an option to either keep him for $9 million or buy him out for $500,000 (Source: MLBTradeRumors.com
). For the Nationals, the move allows them to get a top defensive centerfielder and solid leadoff hitter, without paying the over $10 million per year that Bourn is expected to receive via free agency.
In return for Span, the Twins acquired 22 year-old righthander Alex Meyer, the 23rd overal pick of the 2011 MLB Amateur draft. He entered 2012 as the Nationals' sixth-best major league prospect (per Baseball America) and rated as having the best slider in their farm system.
Meyer, a six-foot nine-inch Indiana native who attended the University of Kentucky, is a very tall but lean pitcher who reaches 97 miles-per-hour (mph) with his fastball and has a dominant power slider that works in the 88-89 mph range. His changeup is still developing, but it could also become a solid pitch for him.
In 25 total games (all starts) between Low and High-A ball in 2012, Alex logged 129 innings pitched, posted a 2.86 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, allowed just 97 hits and 45 walks, and tallied 139 strikeouts. His 3.09 strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) mark is encouraging and, if he can keep it up, he could be on the fast track to the major leagues.
From a fantasy standpoint, Span's move to a Washington club full of young talent and offensive punch can only help him, though his lack of home run power will always put him out of the top levels of fantasy outfielders. Improvement over his 2012 numbers seems likely, and he should have more run-scoring opportunities with Werth, Harper, Morse, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman
hitting behind him. As for Meyer, his fantasy future is far from determined, but owners in leagues that look more toward the future should note that Meyer's path to the big leagues could be much faster with the Twins than it would have been with the pitching-rich Nationals.
Overall, this deal could ultimately benefit both clubs, assuming Span can stay healthy and play to his potential and Meyer builds upon his strong 2012 professional debut and reaches the majors fairly soon.