It’s hard for me to think of a baseball trade that’s ever on paper made more sense for all parties involved than the Minnesota Twins trading Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for Alex Meyer. Both teams had and could afford to trade exactly what the other team needed. And both players involved now find themselves in much better situations in respect to their careers. The Nationals are a championship caliber team who were in need of a true centerfielder and leadoff hitter and are loaded with starting pitching talent. The Twins are a bad team that doesn’t look to be any better in 2013 so they can afford to be patient, desperately short on impact starting pitching talent at all levels but loaded with outfielders. Rarely do each team’s needs and strengths and weaknesses match up so well as to almost make a trade seem inevitable.
The Nationals are one of very few teams that can afford to trade a potential impact starting pitcher, something the Twins desperately need. Their starting rotation is the best in baseball and their top four are all 27 or younger. The Twins are a team that can afford to trade a very good Major League centerfielder under a very team friendly contract because they already have Ben Revere, a similar but younger player to take over for him in 2013, top prospect Aaron Hicks likely only a year away, and also need to clear a spot in the outfield for Chris Parmelee now and Oswaldo Arcia soon. And lest we forget, Joe Benson is still around and with a bounce-back year could be right back in the outfield mix.
The Twins could have traded Span and gotten a more Major League ready player or two that could have helped in 2013. But playing to improve the 2013 team is putting lipstick on a pig. Without trading away top prospects and breaking the bank on free agent signings, there is no way to patch that starting rotation enough to be a legitimate contender. And there is no sense sacrificing the future in a misguided effort to put together a .500 team. Trading Span for a young and somewhat raw, but extremely talented starting pitching prospect makes sense. Ace pitchers are hard to come by and for the most part, come in the mold of a big horse with a power arm. Alex Meyer comes from that prototype. Whether he ever reaches that level is yet to be seen, but there is nobody else in the Twins system with the look of a potential future ace. In fact there are very few pitchers in the Twins system that even project as future Major League caliber end of the rotation starters, much less aces. As we have seen year in and year out recently, championship teams are built around ace pitchers and pitching depth, two areas where the Twins minor league system was very thin before this trade and is a little less so now. It’s a step in the right direction.
On the Nationals side of things, they are filling a need in the leadoff spot of their already solid lineup and greatly improved their outfield defense by allowing Bryce Harper to move to left field, and Mike Morse to move to first base. Span also brings more speed to a team build around sluggers. Though they gave up one of their top prospects to get him, starting pitching is the least of their concerns and they could afford to trade from that deep well. Also, adding an African American face to a predominantly white lineup in a city with a large African American population is probably good for public relations.
For Denard Span, is moving from a franchise that lost 90+ games the past two seasons and looks to be headed there again in 2013 to a team that is an early favorite for the 2013 World Series. He slides seamlessly into an already very good lineup at the leadoff spot where he should easily score 100+ runs if he can stay healthy and centerfield between Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. The chance to play on a World Series contender is what every player wants and that just wasn’t going to happen in Minnesota at least in the foreseeable future. And being the highest profile African American on the Nationals should open up some endorsement opportunities for him. Also, with a good couple years and some team success putting him more in the spotlight, he can set himself up for a big payday in a few years. By all accounts he really enjoyed his time in Minnesota and is sad to go, but he will be embraced by Nationals fans and feel right at home there soon enough.
Alex Meyer’s path to the big leagues just got a whole lot easier. As stocked as the Nationals are with starting pitching, The Twins are equally barren. And though the Twins are considered to be pretty conservative with their prospect advancement timeline, we shouldn’t forget that they tend to be much more aggressive with college pitchers as Meyer was. Matt Garza moved all the way from Low A to the Major Leagues in 2005 and Kyle Gibson was on the fast track before injuring his arm. Meyer could potentially see the Twins starting rotation by late 2013 if all goes well. He’ll be starting in AA most likely and a good couple months there, followed by a good couple starts at AAA and another terrible season by The Twins opening rotation could throw the door wide open. With the Nationals, there would be no need to push him and nowhere to put him in the rotation in the foreseeable future.
Twins fans are understandably upset as they lost one of their favorite players and gained in return a player they had never heard of and is assumed to not be of help for 2013. And to many, it was just another sign that The Twins were breaking their promise to use the added revenue from Target Field to build a consistent winner. But the reality is that without sacrificing a fairly bright looking future, there never was any hope for 2013 sans a miracle 2012 Baltimore Orioles type run where everything goes right. So while Terry Ryan can’t openly write off 2013, if he’s smart, he should be really be working toward 2014 and beyond. And any good Twins fan should remember that it was trades such as this that much of the 2000’s era success was built on. Let us not forget how important the returns from trading established players like Chuck Knoblauch and A.J. Pierzynski were. Trading established Major Leaguers for low minors prospects is rarely popular with the majority of a team’s fan base at the time but when all factors are looked at, this actually appears to be a trade that benefits all parties involved.