Earlier today, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Washington Nationals are willing to “at least listen” when it came to their center fielder, Denard Span.
Acquired last winter for top prospect Alex Meyer, Span had some trouble adjusting to the National League, but ended his season red hot, finishing with very typical Span numbers. He was solid for the end of the season in the leadoff spot, finishing with a .279/.327/.380 slash line after floundering for most of 2013. If Span had not had a 29-game hit streak at the end of year, he would have been looking at, bar none, his worst offensive season in his career. Of course, that did not happen and Span showed that he is valuable defensively and offensively, giving Washington a legitimate leadoff hitter they had long coveted.
Span is cost controlled for the next few seasons from a very team-friendly deal he signed with the Minnesota Twins, and has a team option for the 2015 season, providing Washington payroll flexibility. Span was considered to be somewhat of a stopgap for their top center field prospect Brian Goodwin, as many believed he would be ready to take the reins in 2015, and Washington would have a smooth leadoff and center field transition. Span does receive a raise this season, from $4.75 million to $6.5, but compared to the contracts doled out to the likes of Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton, the Nationals have an undeniable bargain in Span.
With the aforementioned report, it was also stated that Washington may be one of the many teams lining up for Jacoby Ellsbury, who, along with being a Scott Boras client, is coming off a solid season for the World Champion Boston Red Sox, hitting .298/.355/.426 with nine home runs and 53 RBIs. Ellsbury is a former 32 home run hitter, and at age 30 is poised for a substantial payday. The problem with Ellsbury is his health, as he only played in 134 games this season, and has only averaged 80 games played in his seven-year career in Boston.
Which is exactly why Washington should stay as far away from Ellsbury as possible.
Sure, Span has had concussion problems in the past, but he has been much more solid healthwise than Ellsbury, averaging 124 games in his six-year career, and at 29, will be up for a new contract right around the time many say speed players begin to decline. This is an apple and orange comparison, as Span has always been the same player: Strong defensively, a slap hitter who will get a hold of one every so often offensively and can be counted on to be on the field. Ellsbury’s 32-home-run season drastically skews his numbers, and his laundry list of injuries would lead one to believe that only two or three years of good production can be expected from a five- or six-year pact with Ellsbury.
Washington has a known and much more affordable commodity in Span, and with the impending extensions of Washington’s young core of players, the Nationals cannot afford another expensive free-agent contract on their books. If Washington is going to spend money, it should be in a trade and extension that involves pitching. Washington has prospects that can take Span’s place when the time is right, and there is even the opportunity Span is extended. With that in mind, Ellsbury should not be in Washington’s plans, regardless of their relationship with Boras.