Happy Trails Span-man
One of the most beloved Minnesota Twins players, Denard Span, was traded this afternoon to the Nationals for top prospect, Alex Meyer (RHP). The man who’s name and play inspired many phrases and nicknames – “Span-man”, “Let’s get Denarded”, “Spic and Span” – will be continuing his professional career and bringing his list of nicknames to Washington D.C. next season. Feelings will most definitely be mixed about trading an established fan favorite and ball player for – yet again – another prospect. But after delving into the trade more I realized that this may be the right time to move our longest tenured center fielder since Torii Hunter.
Span is the definition of a lead-off hitter, he gets on base, sees multiple pitches in every at bat, is not afraid of hitting with two strikes, uses his speed well, and hits with solid contact to all fields. A career line of .284/.357/.389 with 254 walks in 589 games does some justice to his ability as a lead-off hitter in the majors. What those stats do not tell you is that Span takes and sees pitches effectively, averaging 3.89 pitches per at-bat last season. Taking pitches allows other hitters see how the pitcher is handling the strike zone as well as what kinds of pitches they will throw in certain situations. So taking those pitches will not only help Span in his at-bats, but also aid the rest of the team for their first appearances of the game.
Welcome Alex Meyer
In return for sending Span to the Nationals, the Twins will be receiving top prospect and right-handed pitcher, Alex Meyer. MLB.com picked Meyer as the Nationals’ #2 prospect, and #50 in all of baseball. The 6’9″, 220 lb. flame-thrower has two plus pitches, his 97 mph fastball and 86-88 mph hard-breaking slider, and he has also learned to throw a changeup as well but it will probably not be as effective has the other two. But with the Twins staff being notoriously known for teaching a changeup to young pitchers, look for Meyer’s changeup to improve through the years in the Twins organization.
Meyer had success in his first full season of professional ball after being drafted as the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft. Sporting an impressive line in 2012 of a 10-6 record, a 2.86 ERA with 139 strikeouts and 45 walks in 129 innings. Because of this early success coupled with his two plus pitches, Terry Ryan’s and Dave St. Peter’s expectations are high for the lanky 22-year-old:
The Twins finally have a strikeout-minded, “top-of-the-rotation” type pitcher in their system but at the loss of one of their team’s cornerstones, Denard Span. Many opinions will surround the topic of whether this was a good trade or not, and we will not know until Meyer makes it to Minnesota where we can see his talents in action at Target Field. But for myself, I feel as though this trade makes sense and is good for the team… in the long run.
The Twins have a vibrant collection of young outfielders in their system right now who are all knocking or close to knocking on the door to the big leagues. The log-jam is quite extensive with players like Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario (2B/OF), and further down the road Byron Buxton, all vying to earn their keep in the organization. As these players get better over the next few years, the Twins higher-ups will have to find a spot for them to play so they can start making a difference on the field. In order to make room for these up-and-comers, you have to get rid of players holding onto those positions, whether it is releasing or trading players.
Well, Ben Revere is young, fast, and can handle a bat and is still in his rookie contract; so he stays. The Twins signed Josh Willingham for 3 years last season, and he also had his best year as a professional to boot; so he stays. Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee can platoon at multiple positions and outfield happens to be one of them; because of their flexibility, they stay. Darin Mastroianniis a perfect utility outfielder who can play all three positions and cause chaos on the base paths off the bench; so he stays. Arcia and Hicks are the front-runners for making an appearance at the major league level this season, but with so many players already manning the outfield, where do you put them? That is where Span comes in. Span is still in his prime at age 28, currently involved in a team-friendly contract, plays solid defense and is one of the best lead-off hitters in the game today. There is a lot of value in him right now and many teams need a guy at the top of their order. So, trade him. Trade him for what you believe is the best deal for the Twins, and that is exactly what Terry Ryan did.
This trade frees up a position in the outfield for a younger player to eventually fill, allows Revere to potentially establish himself as the new lead-off hitter for the future, and frees up some cap space for more offseason moves as well, as Phil Mackey suggests:
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 with at least $20 million to spend in free agency.
I had a feeling Denard Span was going to be traded this offseason, but the Nationals were not the team I had expected. My thoughts were of Span being shipped to Atlanta or Tampa Bay for one of their more proven, young starting pitchers. Once Atlanta tied up B.J. Upton to a long-term deal, they were out of the question. Then there is Tampa Bay, who has more young, major-league-ready pitchers than just about any other team every year. The fit seemed good; Span goes to a perennial playoff contender where he grew up and played his high school ball, not to mention that is where is home is as well, and the Twins receive one of the many arms the Rays have such as Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, or Chris Archer, to name a few. But Span being traded straight up for a young, unproven top prospect that can throw 97 but stays in mid-90s consistently, has a plus slider in his arsenal and has room to grow into a potential top-end-rotation guy will have to do. I don’t mind the trade at all, a more proven guy would have been nice but it’s exciting to see a guy in the Twins system with as high a ceiling as Meyer does.
With the Winter Meetings right around the corner, let’s see if there are more moves in store for the Twins; especially with $20-$30 million now to spend on improvements.