It took some creativity in a Denard Span trade to surprise Minnesota Twins fans. After all, his name has been tossed around during offseasons and trade deadlines for at least two years. However, when a trade happened today, surprise was, well, surprisingly my first reaction when I saw the Twins’ trading partner.
Tampa Bay Rays? I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Atlanta Braves? That would have raised an eyebrow now that the Braves have signed B.J. Upton, but I’ve seen some speculation that the organization could still be looking for another outfielder. The Washington Nationals were simply not on my radar, and from the immediate responses I’ve seen, I’m not the only one who was surprised. However, Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine pointed out that, possibly, the move should be less surprising than some of us have found it to be:
It’s worth remembering that Nationals were very close to trading for Span in the summer of 2011; GM Mike Rizzo saw him play in high school.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 29, 2012
Fair point, Buster. It’s just that we Twins fans have tried to forget as much of 2011 as possible.
So, a trade has happened. Minnesota says goodbye to Span and is now welcoming with open arms minor league pitcher Alex Meyer. Well, a lot of people are welcoming Meyer in true Minnesota nice fashion, but skepticism and criticism is already out there, too, at least in the Twittersphere.
My own gut reaction (after “surprise”) was “Noooooooooo!!!”. Then, I took a deep breath and recalled my mild frustration at each of the last two trading deadlines when Span was still on the Twins’ roster. My gut reaction is always sentimental, and I really do like Span. But he’s been arguably the team’s best trading chip for two years, and each trade deadline and offseason has passed without a move, putting the possibility of ever making a good trade for him in increasing jeopardy. Remember those recurring concussion-like symptoms?
Those of us who are gullible enough to drink the kool-aid would have liked to have seen the Twins make a trade for a major-league ready starter. It’s difficult to see how losing a good player like Span and gaining a minor league pitcher who hasn’t even played AA can help the Twins win 85-90 games in 2013. Like I said, my first reaction is always sentimental, my first reaction is to drink the kool-aid that says the Twins can turn it around for next year with only a few moves and signings. But the rational part of me that takes over after a few deep breaths thinks that maybe the Twins recognize it is better to plan for the future rather than the upcoming season.
Then again, maybe the team is making an effort to do both. Phil Mackey of 1500espn.com points out:
With Span’s $4.75 million off the books, the Twins now have about $70 million tied up in guaranteed contracts for 2013. If the payroll sits between $90 million and $100 million next year, that leaves the [team] with at least $20 million to spend in free agency. (sic)
Twins’ Assistant GM Rob Antony appeared on AM 1500 today, and he indicated the Twins will be talking to more agents than teams. Translation: The team’s priority is now free agency, not making a trade. Today’s Span-for-Meyer trade not only created some very solid depth for the team, but it also freed up about $4 million in the Twins’ 2013 budget. The consensus seems to be that the Twins now have $25 million (or thereabouts) remaining in next year’s budget. That doesn’t count money saved if Morneau or Willingham are traded. (I’m still too sentimental to react to those possibilities.)
So Twins fans, hang on to your hats. While $25 million to spend will not buy four ace pitchers, it can go a long way toward purchasing a game-changing contract or two. Next week’s winter meetings take on an even bigger significance, as they will clearly indicate if the front office really thinks the team has a chance in 2013 or if they’re giving fans a party line while functioning in rebuilding mode.