From a Washington Nationals standpoint, the biggest news to come out of the general manager’s meeting in Orlando, Fla. was the report that Washington would listen to offers for center fielder Denard Span.
Make no mistake, Span will leadoff and man center field for the Nationals next year, but the Nationals are wise to listen to what teams are offering for the 29-year-old.
When the Nationals acquired Span last winter, they finally got the center fielder and leadoff hitter they had been sorely lacking since arriving in Washington. Span was acquired from the Minnesota Twins for pitching prospect Alex Meyer as Washington viewed him as a solid leadoff hitter (his career high in OBP came in 2009 when he posted a .392 over 145 games for the Twins), would play gold-glove defense and be able to go first-to-third on hit-and-run plays.
While Span had a mostly lackluster season, he had a 29-game hit streak that lasted until Sept. 20 which helped power the Nationals’ late season Wild Card push and demonstrate his true ability. He ultimately proved his value as an extremely affordable alternative to B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn, whom the Nationals were in on last winter until signing with the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, respectively.
The Nationals are going to keep Span for the same reason they acquired him, he is an extremely valuable alternative to the free agent options, notably 30-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury, who became a free agent after winning the World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox last month. While Ellsbury is not expected to return to Boston, they will make a strong push to keep him, driving up the price to sign him.
When the bidding war starts, the Nationals would be best to avoid it as they did last summer with Upton and Bourn.
Because in a short few years, perhaps as early as next September, the Nationals next center fielder will be ready to take over.
Brian Goodwin, the oft-forgotten Nationals prospect, was drafted by Washington as the 34th pick in 2011 draft and posted numbers in the low minors that rivaled Mike Trout at the same stage in his development. Goodwin, 23, posted excellent numbers at single-A in 2012, and had an excellent showing in 19 games in the Arizona Fall league this fall. He is a five-tool talent with 20-home run potential and could begin the 2014 at the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs.
Goodwin, who the Nationals drafted with the expectation that he would eventually be a multi-tool leadoff hitter, represents Washington’s future in center field. He could be a call-up in September, and depending on circumstances could receive significant playing time. With a strong showing, the Nationals could be motivated to trade Span, who will be turning 31.
If teams are calling on Span now, the Nationals would be wise to do what they are doing, listening, but with no intention of trading him. Without him, the Nationals again lack a leadoff hitter and center fielder, and can guarantee to have problems getting on base at the top of the order, a reality that plagued them most of the season.
Listening to the offers for now allows Washington to establish his market value now, coming off of something of a down year. If Span has a better 2014, the Nationals will be in good position to get what they want in any possible trade, paving way for the Goodwin era.
Evan Szymkowicz is a Washington Nationals writer for Rantsports.com Follow him on twitter @evanszy19.