Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked Denard Span up as the prototypical leadoff man and center fielder he'd been looking for for some time when he acquired the then-28-going-on-29-year-old outfielder from Minnesota in a late-November 2012 trade that sent right-handed pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins.
"His skill set is something that we were looking for -- we've been looking for for a couple years now," Rizzo said.
"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."
Span was all that, in every sense, during his time in the nation's capital, with some ups and downs, of course, but over his three seasons in the nation's capital, he put up a combined .292/.345/.404 line with 84 doubles, 19 triples, 14 home runs and 62 stolen bases in 361 games and 1,605 plate appearances, all the while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, though he never did win one of the awards for his defensive excellence.
A .302/.355/.416, 39 double, eight triple, five home run, 31 stolen base, 4.0 fWAR campaign in 2014 convinced the Nats to pick up Span's $9M option for the 2015 season, but the outfielder was never right, with surgeries for a sports hernia and core muscle injury last winter and Spring, back issues and eventually hip surgery limiting the now-31-year-old to 61 games and 275 PAs this past season, over which he did, however, manage to put up a .301/.365/.431 line.
His season ended in August, after an attempted return following more than a month off. Span underwent surgery to repair a tear of the labrum in his left hip and shave down the bone "to clear space" as James Wagner of the Washington Post reported in early September.
In an MLB Network Radio interview this afternoon, Span told hosts Mike Ferrin and Mike Stanton that the rehab from surgery was going well.
"It's going good. Going really good," Span said. "Everything is on track. If anything it's probably ahead of schedule. The range of motion in my hip is getting there and just feeling good. Just ready to get going."
The injury issues which ended his season and limited his activity were, he admitted, all tied to the surgeries he underwent last winter and spring.
"I feel like it totally came from the two sports hernia surgeries that I had early on," Span explained, "starting off during the offseason last year and then in Spring Training.
"I probably came back too early from both of the injuries and I think it just led to the hip giving in to me.
"That was me trying to hurry back and help the team and if I had it to do all over again -- probably would do the same thing but it would have been smart if I would have taken a little more time."
The injury-shortened season was not ideal, of course, especially for a player who, like Span, is likely headed for free agency after the World Series ends.
Asked if he and the Nationals had talked at all about the possibility of returning for a fourth season in D.C., Span declined to comment.
"I'd rather not go there," Span said. "I'd just rather not go there. Technically I'm not even a free agent yet, so I don't know what's going to happen, but they know my stance."
Asked about manager Matt Williams' dismissal at the end of a disappointing campaign for everyone involved, Span said that he always got along well with the now-former Nats' skipper, and felt bad that Williams took the fall for the way things turned out.
"We had a good relationship," he said. "I thought that he did good. I think he's obviously getting a lot of fall for our shortcomings, but you can't put it all on him.
"Us, as the players, we've got to be accountable. We had a lot of bad things happen for us this past year. Had a lot of injuries. Myself, Jayson Werth was out for a while, Anthony Rendon was out for a while, Stephen Strasburg was out multiple times.
"You don't want to point to that and use that as an excuse, but we just -- just nothing went well for us this year. It's unfortunate that Matt had to take the downfall for our shortcomings, and the reality of it is we all, top-to-bottom, came up short."
Will the injury issues lead to Span getting less than he might have on the free agent market if he'd put the numbers he did this season up over the course of a full campaign?
Is there any possibility he returns to D.C. on a one-year deal to try to build his stock up again after missing so much time this season? Do the Nationals trust Michael Taylor to take over full-time in center in 2016?
Regardless of what happens next, Span was, for long stretches, exactly the player Rizzo and the Nats were looking for when they acquired him back in 2012 and he'll be missed if he doesn't return.