Nationals' Center Fielder Denard Span In D.C.: Year One

Jonathan Ernst

A year ago today, on November 29, 2012, Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo completed a trade with the Minnesota Twins that brought Denard Span to the nation's capital in return for right-hander Alex Meyer, one of the Nats' three 2011 1st Round picks.

B.J. Upton signed a 5-year/$75.25M deal with the Atlanta Braves on November 28, 2012.

The Washington Nationals were tied to Upton everywhere before he signed since they were aggressively in the market for a, "dynamic type of... a guy who can play center field and lead off for us," as Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s radio hosts Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier in an interview on the morning of November 29th.

"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." - Mike Rizzo on Denard Span last November

The plan, as Rizzo explained it, was to find someone to play center so the Nationals could move then-20-year-old slugger Bryce Harper to left field, thinking their 2010 no.1 overall pick would be, "...more comfortable in a corner outfield position," which, the general manager said, "is where we see his future down the road."

Later that day, with all the Hot Stove chatter pointing toward Washington signing Scott Boras' client Michael Bourn, the Nationals announced that they had acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 22-year-old, 2011 1st Round pick Alex Meyer. The decision to part with Meyer was a tough one, as the Nationals' GM told reporters in a conference call that afternoon.

"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."

"I remember talking with someone with the Nats when they made the deal and they said, 'Look, we're going to end up with people asking a lot of questions about this, but we have to do it." - Grant Paulsen on MLB Network Radio's Minors and Majors

It fit the Nats' "time frame" in that it allowed the Nationals to bring the younger prospects in the system like Meyer's fellow 2011 1st Round pick Brian Goodwin and then-21-year-old outfielder Michael Taylor along slowly, while Span, who came to D.C. three years after he signed a 5-year/$16.5M extension with the Twins, played center and led off. Plus, Span was under contract through 2014 with a club option for 2015 at $9M or a $500,000 buyout.

As for the skills Span brought to the nation's capital, Rizzo described the outfielder as a "a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range," a "front line defensive center fielder," and, "a confident leadoff type of hitter."

Span, Rizzo said, was a, "a 28-year-old guy," who was, "still just reaching the prime of his career."

"With his skill set," Rizzo said. "I really think that his game is going to translate to the National League very, very well."

Though Span's defense in center was as advertised, he struggled at the plate against lefties in his first year in D.C., putting up a .223/.278/.261 line in 172 plate appearances vs LHPs just a year after posting a .301/.374/.365 line in 176 PAs vs left-handers with the Twins.

"There was an adjustment to a new league and a new city and leaving the only franchise he's ever been in. But, this guy's character and approach to the game is second to none." - Mike Rizzo on Denard Span on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.

Span did, however, put up a .298/.344/.422 line against right-handers, and he followed up on a .283/.342/.395, 38 double, four triple, four home run, +3.6 fWAR season in Minnesota in 2012, with a .279/.327/.380, 28 double, 11 triple, four home run, +3.5 fWAR campaign in Washington in 2013.

Span was at a loss to explain the issues with left-handed pitchers.

"'I hit lefties,'" Span told the Washington Times this past September. "'I always have. You check my stats. I normally don’t say that but I’ve hit them my whole career in the big leagues.'"

Span has a .281/.358/.374 career line vs lefties even after what he saw as an anomalous campaign. The Nats' center fielder finished strong, putting together a 29-game hit streak between August 17th and September 18th over which he had a .371/.406/.492 line with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and seven of his 20 stolen bases on the year during that stretch.

What does Span have to do this season to convince the Nationals to pick up his option for 2015? Does it have more to do with Brian Goodwin's development? Alex Meyer put up a 3.21 ERA, a 2.73 FIP, 29 walks (3.73 BB/9) and 84 Ks (10.80 K/9) in 13 starts and 70 IP at Double-A in the Twins' system, missing time with a shoulder issue, but returning to the mound and impressing in a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League. One year later, what are your thoughts on the deal that brought Denard Span to the Nationals?

Are you in the "Move Span out of the leadoff spot!" camp? Think there is any chance Span's not leading off on Opening Day 2014?

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