Oct 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2014: 30
How acquired: Trade from Twins for RHP Alex Meyer, Nov. 2012
MLB service time: 5 years, 111 days
2013 salary+bonuses: $4.75 million
Contract status: Signed for $6.5 million in 2014, $9 million club option (or $500,000 buyout) in 2015, free agent in 2016
2013 Stats: 153 G, 662 PA, 75 R, 170 H, 28 2B, 11 3B, 4 HR, 47 RBI, 20 SB, 42 BB, 77 SO, .279 AVG, .327 OBP, .380 SLG, .707 OPS, 0 E, 10.2 UZR, 3.5 WAR
Quotable: “Honestly, no matter where I end up, I can look at it already on September 10 and say this is probably my best season of my career. Just considering what I’ve been through. I’ve been through a lot.” — Denard Span, who at the time was 20 games into his career-high, 29-game hitting streak.
2013 analysis: Span arrived in D.C. last winter amid some significant hype, hand-picked by GM Mike Rizzo to stabilize two long-standing problem areas for the Nationals: leadoff hitter and center fielder. But just as the season’s first four months were disappointing for the Nats as a whole, so were they for Span on an individual level. Battling some tweaked swing mechanics, he struggled to get his timing down at the plate, and the result was a .258 batting average and .310 on-base percentage on August 16, with the vast majority of his outs seemingly coming on weak groundballs to the right side of the infield.
And then Span, like the Nationals, suddenly got hot in mid-August and remained that way the rest of the year. He compiled a 29-game hitting streak, longest of his career and only one game shy of Ryan Zimmerman’s club record. The streak ended September 19 with an 0-for-4 night at the plate, but Span remained hot through the season’s final week. Over a 39-game stretch, he hit .338 with a .375 on-base percentage and .834 OPS that left his season totals closely resembling his career norms.
Despite his early offensive struggles, Span never took those woes with him out to center field, where he excelled all season. Perhaps most remarkable about his defensive play: The ease with which he made difficult plays, owing in large part to his stellar reads off the bat.
2014 outlook: If there were any questions about his future with the Nationals, Span answered them during his late-season surge. More comfortable and confident in a new league and with a new team, he should enter 2014 with much more peace of mind.
The Nationals will want to see more consistency from Span from Day One, recognizing his importance to the entire lineup. His ability to get on base creates so many more opportunities for Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth behind him, and it’s no coincidence his late surge coincided with the club’s overall surge.
This will be an important year for Span from a contract standpoint. The Nationals hold a $9 million option on him for 2015. That’s a hefty chunk to pay a leadoff hitter, but if Span performs throughout 2014 as he did during the final six weeks of 2013, he’d certainly give the Nats valid reason to retain him for another season.
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