Jan 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2014: 30
How acquired: Trade from Twins for RHP Alex Meyer, Nov. 2012
2014 salary: $6.5 million
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
2014 storyline: After a strong finish to what had been a disappointing debut season in D.C., Span returns with no questions about his status as the Nationals’ leadoff man and starting center fielder. But they’ll want to see more consistency from him at the plate, right from Opening Day. Span’s swing was admittedly out of whack for the first four months of 2013, but he rediscovered his old approach along the way and benefited from it. He’ll need to remember what he did that worked during his MLB-leading, 29-game hit streak in August-September and carry it over to the new season.
In the field, Span remains smooth as silk and an elite MLB center fielder. This will be an important season for him, though, because the Nationals must decide whether to pick up his $9 million option for 2015.
Best-case scenario: Span picks up where he left off at season’s end and ignites the Nationals lineup from Day One in 2014. He hits .295 with a .370 on-base percentage, steals 30 bases and most importantly scores 100 runs for the first time in his career. He also wins his first Gold Glove Award, making several highlight-reel catches that draw added attention because he makes them in the middle of a pennant race.
Worst-case scenario: Span falls into some bad habits early in the season. He hits .250 with a .315 OBP, tapping weak grounders to the right side of the infield three times a night. Needing more of a spark atop his lineup, manager Matt Williams inserts Nate McLouth in center field, leaving Span to scratch and claw for playing time. The Nats show no inclination of picking up the 2015 option, so Span becomes a free agent after two disappointing years in Washington.
Most-likely scenario: Span really is a better hitter than we saw for most of 2013. He may not be able to keep up the torrid pace he set over the final six weeks, but he comfortably hits .285 with a .350 on-base percentage and scores 85 runs while stealing 25 bases. He continues to excel in center field, and because of that the Nationals are faced with a tough dilemma at season’s end: Pick up the $9 million option, or let Span walk and hand the job to rookie Brian Goodwin in 2015?
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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