Washington Nationals: Offseason In Review - Trade With Minnesota Twins For Denard Span Looks Good For Nats

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Fangraphs.com's Dave Cameron ranked the Washington Nationals' acquisition of outfielder Denard Span as the top transaction of the winter. The Minnesota Twins were happy with the return on the 28-year-old center fielder and leadoff man, but the Nats' move looks like a strong one right now.

"[Twins' GM] Terry Ryan is one of the best general managers in the game," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after acquiring 28-year-old outfielder Denard Span from Minnesota in return for a then-22-year-old Alex Meyer this past November, "You're not going to pull the wool over his eyes."

The Nats loved Meyer, taking the towering pitcher with their second 1st Round pick in 2011, 23rd overall, after selecting Anthony Rendon with the 6th pick. The Nationals signed Meyer to a $2M dollar bonus. Assistant GM Roy Clark said the Nationals considered taking Meyer with the sixth pick. On the night of the 2011 Draft, Nats' Director of Scouting Kris Kline said Meyer, a 6'9'', 220 lb, University of Kentucky-educated right-hander, who'd been drafted by the Red Sox in the 20th Round of the '08 Draft and offered a $2M dollar bonus out of high school, was a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in his mind and, "Worst-case scenario," Kline said, "you've got a [Daniel] Bard-type reliever with a better slider and somebody that you bring in at the back of your bullpen that can dominate."

The Twins were clearly pleased with the return on Span, a five-year veteran who was coming off a .283/.342/.395, 38 double, four triple, four home run, +3.9 fWAR campaign in 2012, and was under contract for the next two seasons at $4.75M in 2013 and $6.5M in 2013 with a $9M option for 2015. Minnesota's GM Terry Ryan told Star Tribune writer Lavelle E. Neal III he felt Meyer was a pitcher who could help the Twins in the near-future. "'This guy is a power-type pitcher who throws it over,'" Ryan said, "'That equates to someone who should be able to do some things in the minor leagues and get up here.'"

In Meyer's first pro season, he started the year at Class-A Hagerstown, posting a 3.10 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 34 walks (3.40 BB/9) and 107 Ks (10.70 K/9) in 18 games and 90.0 IP. Meyer made the jump to High-A Potomac in July, finishing the year with seven starts and 39.0 IP in which he had a 2.54 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 11 walks (2.54 BB/9) and 32 Ks (7.38 K/9). "These guys are hard to get," the Twins' GM told the Star Tribune's Mr. Neal on the night of the trade, "and if you are going to get them it's going to be in the low to mid-minors. Once they get up to Double-A or Triple-A they are almost impossible to get."

"To get a good, established major league player at Denard's age, with the contract that he has," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said, "You're going to have to give up a good quality player." But for the Nationals, Span was the perfect fit.

"You're talking about a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range," Rizzo told reporters, "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."

Fangraphs.com's Dave Cameron, who qualifies in the article that just because he considers a trade a win for one franchise doesn't mean it is a loss for the other, ranked the Nationals' acquisition of Span this winter as the no.1 transaction of the offseason on Thursday, giving the Nats the nod over the Blue Jays' signing of Melky Cabrera (2-years/$16M) and Toronto's trade with the Marlins for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck. Span's worth +3 wins, Mr. Cameron argues, could see an offensive resurgence now that he's finally over concussion-related issues and he's under team control for the next three seasons if the Nats exercise the option for 2015, "And, yet, the Nationals were still able to acquire him for the cost of one A-Ball pitching prospect who may or may not be able to stick in the rotation long term." As Mr. Cameron writes:

"When you look at what other +3 win outfielders were signing for this winter, or what other above average players with multiple years of team control were commanding in trades, Span looks like an outright theft by the Nationals."

What really makes it a great deal for Washington? As Fangraphs.com's Mr. Cameron puts it, "[The] Nationals gave up about the same value in terms of prospects to acquire three years of Span as they received when they shipped off one year of Michael Morse, the guy who Span pushed out of the line-up to begin with." The three-team trade with the A's and Mariners that sent Morse to Seattle brought A.J. Cole (RHP Blake Treinen and a PTBNL) back to D.C. a year after Cole was dealt to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, essentially replacing Meyer in the organizational depth chart with a right-hander, in Cole, who is two years younger than Meyer, having just turned 21 in early January, and has more time in the minors, having been drafted out of high school and signed to a $2M dollar bonus back in 2010.

To take it back another step, all of this was made possible two years ago by the Nationals' decision let Adam Dunn walk as a free agent in the winter of 2010-11. Washington let Dunn walk after the big middle-of-the-order bat hit 38 HRs and drove in 100+ runs in +1.1 and +3.5 fWAR seasons in the nation's capital in 2009-10. Dunn left, signed with the Chicago White Sox and the Nationals received two compensatory picks in return.

Alex Meyer was selected 20th overall with the first of those two picks and UNC/Miami Dade College center fielder Brian Goodwin was selected 34th overall with the second compensatory pick the Nationals received from the Sox. Meyer was subsequently dealt to Minnesota in return for Span, who Nats' Director of Player Development Doug Harris explained in an MLB Network Radio interview on Wednesday, gives the Nationals a center fielder for the next few seasons while Goodwin continues to develop. So the Nats potentially set themselves up in center for the next two-three seasons while their future center fielder develops at his own pace. What is that the Nats fans on the internet say?

In Rizzo We Trust.

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