With a free agent market for center fielders that was expected to include B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, and Shane Victorino there was plenty of early speculation that teams looking to acquire a new center fielder this offseason might also pursue one via trade, with Minnesota’s Denard Span most commonly being mentioned as a possible alternative. The Washington Nationals were among those teams expected to have interest in pursuing a center fielder this winter, addressing an area that’s been a perceived need for quite some time now. According to MLBTR, the Nationals acquired Span from the Twins this afternoon in exchange for right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer.
Span was a 1st Round pick in the 2002 Draft (20th overall) but did not make his MLB Debut until during the 2008 season. That year he appeared in 93 games for the Twins, batting .294/.387/.432 over 411 plate appearances with 6 HR, 47 RBI, and 18 stolen bases – good enough to finish 6th in Rookie of the Year voting in the American League (Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria would be the unanimous winner that year). Span saw time across the outfield that season, but eventually would settle into center field on a permanent basis by the 2010 season. He’d miss a significant portion of time during 2011 due to some lingering concussion-like symptoms, the result of an early June collision at the plate with Kansas City’s Brayan Pena.
In 2012 Span hit .283/.342/.395 over 568 plate appearances with the Twins, once again proving to be a valuable piece atop the Minnesota lineup and in center field. That ability to lead off is part of what appeals most about him and likely a large factor in why so many teams have been linked to having interest in the 28 year old since this past summer’s trade deadline. Span is slated to make just $4.75 Million this coming season and $6.5 Million in 2014. There is a club option for $9 Million for 2015 that includes a $500,000 buyout.
Washington will surely install Span in center field and atop their lineup, solving a pair of needs the organization has long looked to address. The addition also allows the team to move Bryce Harper into one of the corner outfield positions, a spot where he is likely better suited long term. With Harper and Jayson Werth in the corners, the acquisition of Span could have further implications on the Nationals lineup as the team now appears to have a logjam of players capable of handling first base – including Michael Morse, Tyler Moore, and free agent Adam LaRoche.
In return, Minnesota is receiving just the one player in Meyer, but he’s one of Washington’s top prospects.
Meyer, 23, was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 Draft and just completed his first professional season this past year. He posted a 10-6 overall record between two levels, adding a 2.86 ERA and 1.101 WHIP over 129.0 innings of work. He finished the season making 7 starts with the organization’s High-A affiliate, so presumably he’ll begin the 2013 campaign at the same level with an eventual bump to Double-A. Meyer likely won’t see the Major Leagues before late in the 2014 season, at the earliest. The 6’9” 22 year old likely would have been considered among the top prospects in the Nationals’ system, so it was certainly a high price that the team paid in order to acquire Span. With the Twins he’ll face some tougher competition, namely from Kyle Gibson, but he’ll still easily be considered among the team’s top pitching prospects.
Replacing Span in center field for Minnesota will almost assuredly be Ben Revere, who’s defensive efforts and speed on the bases have long made speculation about Span’s availability possible. With Josh Willingham in left and Revere in center, it seems likely that the Twins will now need to seek an outfielder on the free agent market as the team’s prospects at the position (a group including Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Byron Buxton) are likely not yet MLB-ready.