The Nationals’ search for a leadoff hitter is seemingly over, now that the team has traded for speedy center fielder Denard Span. But with a surplus of outfielders, what future moves does this trade portend?
After running through an assortment of leadoff hitters last year that included Ian Desmond, Steve Lombardozzi and finally Jayson Werth — all hitters who are either better suited for other spots in the order (or coming off the bench in Lombardozzi’s case), general manager Mike Rizzo decided to make a move in the offseason to find a permanent solution. After the top free-agent prospect at the position, B.J. Upton, signed with Atlanta, Rizzo pulled the trigger on a deal with the Minnesota Twins that sent the Nats’ top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer,to the Twins for Span in a
The Nats gave up a talented but still developing 2011 first-round draft pick who went 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 25 starts, while moving up from Class A Hagerstown to Class A Potomac this past season. What they got was an established leadoff hitter who, after missing most of 2011 with a concussion, came back to form for the AL-worst Twins this year, hitting .283/.342/.395/ with 17 stolen bases. He also has a reputation as a fine defensive outfielder, making him a seemingly perfect fit in Washington’s outfield.
Although they had to give up one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, the financial price for Span seems to be right. The Associated Press reports that the five-year veteran is heading into the fourth year of a $16.5 million, five-year contract, with a $9 million club option for a sixth year. Upton’s deal with Atlanta pays him $75.25 million over five seasons.
Rizzo told The AP that Span adds a new dimension to the Nationals with his speed on the basepaths, contact hitting and defense.
Span, a native of Tampa, Fla., who told The Washington Post he was born in the District in 1984, also told mlb.com’s Bill Ladson that he believes he can be an All-Star playing alongside Bryce Harper and Werth.
So what else does this move mean for the 2013 Nats?
The consensus among analysts seems to be that 2012 Rookie of the Year Harper will move to left field and 10-year veteran and playoff hero Werth, who missed half the 2012 season with a broken wrist, will remain in right field.
The man in play now is gold glove first baseman Adam LaRoche, who led the team with 33 home runs and 100 RBIs but became a free agent after declining a mutual option. LaRoche’s defensive skills also prevented a few batters from reaching first base after errant throws by third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had surgery after the season for a right shoulder injury that landed him on the disabled list for 14 games and required cortisone shots afterward.
MLB.com’s Ladson reports that LaRoche and the Nats are still not close to a new deal.
The man dependent on LaRoche’s status is regular left fielder Michael Morse, who hit 18 homers and drove in 60 runs in 102 games. He missed 60 games with injuries, including a strained lat muscle and a wrist injury after being ht with a pitch. His defense at is also widely acknowledged not to be as good as that of the team’s other outfielders or LaRoche’s at first.
Behind him is Tyler Moore, who hit 10 homers and drove in 29 runs in limited action in 75 games, but developed a reputation as a clutch hitter.
At least one analyst is predicting how the dominoes will fall.
The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore tweeted that the Span trade means that the Nats will not likely sign LaRoche, move Morse to first and use some of the salary money they are saving to pursue a quality starting pitcher and a reliever.