On Thursday, Washington General Manger Mike Rizzo traded top pitching prospect Alex Meyer for Span. The Nationals needed a center fielder and leadoff hitter and, instead of signing high priced free agent B.J. Upton, decided to trade for Span.
The first change that we will see with the Nationals is 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper being moved from center field. Harper took over the position in April and played 139 games. Though he did well defensively and batted .270 with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs, center field is not Harper’s natural position. Being left handed with a strong arm, he is more suited to play right field. Jayson Werth played there last season and will probably shift to left. The odd man out will be Michael Morse who played left field last season.
If Washington fails to sign free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, then Morse will battle Tyler Moore for the first base position. Morse played first when LaRoche missed most of the 2011 season due to injury. The Nationals feel comfortable with Morse at first and would put him there in order to keep his bat in the lineup. If LaRoche resigns, he will stay at first and there is a good chance that Morse could be traded to replenish some of the pitching that has been dealt in the last two years.
Span is expected to move into the leadoff spot which is currently occupied by Werth. Like Harper in center, Werth is not a typical leadoff hitter in that he does not steal bases. Werth’s value at the top of the lineup is working pitchers deep into the count and making them throw strikes. Werth hardly ever cheats himself at the plate.
Span will bring more speed and base stealing potential to the leadoff role. If he can get on base consistently, Washington has the hitters to drive him in. The Nationals may move Werth to second in order to give Span chances to steal. Or the team may put the left handed hitting Harper in the two spot so that he can have the right side of the infield to hit through. If Span and Harper bat one and two, their speed and daring will put pressure on the defense.
When manager Davey Johnson played for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Paul Blair played center and batted leadoff for them. The Orioles won four pennants and two World Series in six years. Johnson knows the importance of a good leadoff hitting center fielder. Johnson hopes that Span can bring to the Nationals what Blair did for Baltimore.
One thing that we do know is that the Span trade, as most do, will revamp Washington’s lineup in 2012. The outfield and batting lineup will look different and should be improved. The infield may change as well.
With Span, the Nationals have added another piece to their puzzle, but we won’t know exactly how it will look until opening day 2013.