The Washington Nationals announced tonight that they had acquired 28-year-old outfielder Denard Span from Minnesota in a 1-for-1 deal that sent 22-year-old 2011 1st Round pick pitcher Alex Meyer to the Twins. Span, a veteran of five MLB seasons, is coming off a .283/.342/.395, 38 double, four triple, four home run, +3.9 fWAR 2012 campaign. The Nats have been tied to Span in the past, with a rumored deal before the deadline in 2011 failing to transpire, but the two sides apparently started talking about a deal again a few weeks back, as Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters on a conference call tonight.
"We've been in contact with [GM] Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins for approximately three of four weeks [since] we started discussing the deal," the Nationals' 51-year-old general manager explained, "It started gaining momentum last week after the GM Meetings and we started really getting some progress this past couple of days." The Nationals have been after Span for a while, the Nats' GM explained because, "... he fits very well for us. First of all, outstanding character, big-time make-up guy. His teammates love him, on the field, off the field, community guy. I've known him for a long time."
Rizzo said he'd scouted Span and been familiar with the outfielder for years, determining that, "... his skill set is something that we were looking for, we've been looking for for a couple years now. You're talking about a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range. Sabermetrically and with a scout's eye, he's a front line defensive center fielder. He's a confident leadoff type of hitter. He appeals greatly to us because of his skill set as an offensive player. You know, high average guy, .350 OBP-type of guy, doesn't strike out -- one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out -- so a contact bat and can really, really run... from the left side of the plate, which keeps our lineup balanced and a guy that in the past has stolen a lot of bases and we feel is really going to come into his own as a base stealer in the National League."
Span signed an 5-year extension with the Twins in 2010 that covers 2013 when he'll make $4.75M and 2014 when he'll earn $6.5M. The deal also includes an option year for 2016 that would pay the outfielder $9M. The acquisition fits the plan the Nationals have discussed previously of giving them a controllable outfielder who can bridge the gap to some of the prospects they have in the organization who are now a few years away from being major league ready. Span, the GM said, is different type of player than the Nationals have had in center before, describing him tonight as, "... the first guy with this type of skill set that's an established major league player."
"We think we've got guys in the system that fill this role," Rizzo explained, "But they're years away. They're in the pipeline and we're looking for big things from them down the road. But as far as an established guy, at his age... he's a 28-year-old guy, still just reaching the prime of his career, with his skill set, I really think that his game is going to translate to the National League very, very well."
The acquisition also allows the Nats to rearrange their outfield, moving Bryce Harper to a corner spot. "The way we look at it," Rizzo said, "we've got three players in Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span that can play center field in the major league effectively. So, in effect, we have three center fielders playing the outfield for us. I think they're going to be a rangy bunch, they all throw well, they're accurate and they're going to be an exciting group to watch."
Asked if the deal would have any ramifications on the Nats' negotiations with Adam LaRoche and what it means for Michael Morse, who is suddenly the odd man out in the Nationals' outfield, Rizzo said simply, "Michael Morse is under contract with us. He's a guy that's a middle-of-the-lineup productive player for us and Adam LaRoche was our first baseman last year and we're still discussing it with him and in contract negotiations. So it gives us some options in dealing with our roster."
As for Alex Meyer, the 23rd overall pick in 2011 after the Nats selected Anthony Rendon with their first 1st Round pick of the Draft, Rizzo admitted that it was tough to part with such a talented young pitcher. Meyer had a 3.10 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 34 walks (3.40 BB/9) and 107 Ks (10.70 K/9) at Class-A Hagerstown and the former University of Kentucky right-hander had a 2.31 ERA and a 3.23 FIP with 11 walks (2.54 BB/9) and 32 Ks (7.38 K/9) in seven starts and 39.0 IP when he moved up to High-A Potomac. "To get a good, established major league player at Denard's age, with the contract that he has," Rizzo admitted, "you're going to have to give up a good quality player. [Twins' GM] Terry Ryan is one of the best general managers in the game. You're not going to pull the wool over his eyes."
"You have to give to get," Rizzo said, "And we feel that we have great depth in our minor league system. We continue to call upon our scouts and player development to add to that system each and every year and to give up an Alex Meyer for a Denard Span is always a difficult decision to make, but one that we felt fit our time frame, fit our skill set and was something that the front office and ownership was willing to do."