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Roster preview: Denard Span

Jan 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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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?

  1. David Proctor - Jan 21, 2014 at 6:16 AM

    I think Span’s 2012 is a pretty good idea of what we could expect. .283/.342/.395 with a 104 OPS+. That’s significantly better than his .279/.327/.380 with a 94 OPS+ we got in 2013.

  2. edshelton2013 - Jan 21, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    I’d be very happy with Mark’s “most likely scenario”: .285BA/.350 OBP/85R/25SB.
    If that happens, Span’s option is picked up and Goodwin gets another year at AAA.

  3. Joe Seamhead - Jan 21, 2014 at 7:07 AM

    What a joy to watch play center field. He has an outfielder’s natural radar that can’t be taught, no matter how much practice.

    • ArVAFan - Jan 21, 2014 at 7:49 AM

      Agreed. He has fewer “highlight reel” plays because he’s usually standing under the ball when it arrives (the memorable exception being his game-saving catch where he ended up on his backside right under the Natitude sign). One of my “best moments” of 2013–looking for more of same in 2014. Age is not going to diminish that radar skill–at least not in a year or two.

      • water47 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:39 AM

        Agreed that he just does not get the highlights very often as he is already where he needs to be to make the play.

    • sjm308 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:39 AM

      Seamhead: you and I have been in Span’s camp pretty much since the first day and we don’t have to write much more about how we see him. I remember in the early days you and a certain poster going at it pretty good about who was the best CF in Nationals history. As I recall that poster listed A. Soriano which made me chuckle. There was also debate about Span & I think it was Corey Brown. It was all in good fun though and maybe Corey will actually get to play this year in the AL.

      If we do pick up Spans option we will not be what I consider a young team in 2015. I am not upset with that but for some reason I always saw us as a young group with a couple veterans sprinkled in (Werth/LaRoche). In a year we will have at least 4 as I would consider Zimm, Desmond, Werth & Span in that catagory and god knows what is going to happen at first base in a year.

      Not a bad situation, just different.

      Go Nats!!

      • water47 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:53 AM

        sjm,

        Alas, young teams mature and hopefully remain and improve competitively. Also, remember the long discussions about the Lerners/Nats being cheap? Well, I think it is safe to say that the Lerners have implemented their plan slowly and methodically. Spending as needed. And, remember the dark years of back to back 100 loss seasons. Nice we are talking about all the problems of a big market team.

  4. ehay2k - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    ArVAfan, I’m in agreement with you about “highlight reel” catches – Span gets to the ball very quickly, whether due to positioning or radar or effortless speed, it does not matter. I can only remember him going to the ground twice last year, although I’m sure it happened more than that. Usually, he was positioned like Mays – it always looked like they’d hit it right to him.

    I’m don’t sure how hit hitting will pan out, but the Nats have never had a great hitting CF anyway. I just want a healthy one who makes catches and steers clear of walls.

  5. water47 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    I like the idea of Mark’s most likely scenario. He becomes the table-setter the Nats need. And if he is that or better, the Nats will pick up his option. The Nats MiLB position players need more time, And, if a Goodwin etc develop faster then they move him to a contender needing someone to improve their Defense for the Stretch run.

    Also, I wanted to discuss the JZim contract extension. I think it continues to show the good relationship that Rizzo has with players. Why, I think he has spoken with JZim and his agent and fairly discussed a long term extension but they could not get it done. So, Rizzo shift gears and says We value you and realize your a top flight pitcher. We want to close the loop on the next two year so let’s make a deal. We feel you are worth about $24 Million over 2 years, As the money is guaranteed, we can move it around and make it good for both parties. How about we make it a lower first year and a big second year. This makes it a lot better for us next year and sets you up with the premium value going into FA. If, we can make a deal in two years great and if not, we hope to have helped make you the money you deserve (& the Nats get comp pick).

    • sjm308 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:41 AM

      Water: your scenario with JZmmnn & Rizzo really makes sense and I can see that actually taking place. I had not thought along those terms and it was a huge help. Thanks

      • water47 - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:03 AM

        In just reading everything that JZimm has said, He has not bitched, complained or knocked the Nats or Rizzo. In fact, he has been positive on his experiences with the Nats and firm in his belief in his own value. So, Rizzo, who has a man crush on JZImm (his diamond in the rough), treats him right and they move forward togeher. Things go well, JZimm anchors the rotation on the way to another NL East title or two and maybe a WS run. Then, the money rolls in!

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    I’d be satisfied w/ last year’s nos., stretched out over a full season, just for the defense. Really, I would. Two things are given: in 2015, Goodwin is nowhere near ready to be entrusted with CF on a team that expects to contend, Span’s $9MM option will look like someone put a Salvation Army price tag on a CF.

  7. Sonny G 10 - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    In my best case scenario, I want Span to do well and we pick up his option for 2015, but we keep Goodwin to take over in 2016. I don’t like the idea that we traded Alex Meyer for him if we don’t get at least three years out of that deal.

    • Sonny G 10 - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:10 AM

      Of course, if Goodwin really breaks out strong and is much the better player, then so long Denard; it was nice knowing you.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:31 AM

        is Goodwin really that good or on such a track that he could outproduce span on a contending team in 2015? I think a contender would be hesitant to give a starting role to a prospect who is not one of game’s top prospects when the alternate option only costs $9 million.

  8. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    I think it is very likely that his option is picked up. Even in his down years, he has produced enough WAR to warrant that team option. I don’t see any must have CFs in free agency after this season and Goodwin will have to destroy AAA pitching for Nats to hand over starting CF job while contending.

    If Goodwin does perform very well, ALR is also leaving after 2014. We could move Werth to 1st and put Goodwin in OF (but that does not replace ALR’s power in the lineup).

  9. NatsLady - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    Mike Rizzo will be on MLB Hotstove this morning, if you are home on a snow day watching TV… (not sure exactly what time, but they replay the entire show at 11 a.m. and excerpts at 4 pm.).

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 21, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    So far, Goodwin is a .250 AA hitter who strikes out about as often as Mark Reynolds. His hype to accomplishments ratio is extremely high.

  11. alexva6 - Jan 21, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Goodwin has all the tools needed to be a star, to date he has not refined those tools into the skills he needs to succeed at the MLB level.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jan 21, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      Could we please stop talking about “tools?” Steve Dalkowski,Steve Bilko, Herb Washington, etc., all had “tools: but were never bona fide major leaguers. Corey Brown was a 4- or 5-“tool” player with, what, 24 big league ABs? A piece of wood can be an instrument of blunt violence but it isn’t a “tool” until someone with skills and discipline “refines” it, as you say, and applies it. Until you see that on the field, in a game, it’s just hype. If you look at Nationals Prospects “Watch List” of position players you see how membranically thin the Nats farm system is in position players. If there are more than a half-dozen with likely 10-year major league careers — with any team, not just with the Nats — their accomplishments have yet to show it. Goodwin, right now, is enticing but the most anyone can say.

      • alexva6 - Jan 21, 2014 at 11:13 AM

        had I said Goodwin is a star, that would be hype.

        acknowledging that he has the physical attributes to be a star but has yet to refine same is prospect analysis

  12. jd - Jan 21, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    Goodwin’s OBP was .355 so he didn’t exactly bomb at AA.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jan 21, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      I’m with Theo regarding “tools.” Add Justin Maxwell to the list of 5 tool players. As to Goodwin? Laugh at me if you want to, but I’ll bet a beer that Billy Burns plays for the A’s before Goodwin plays for the Nats.

  13. Eugene in Oregon - Jan 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    I’m quite comfortable with the Nats starting the season with Denard Span in CF, Jayson Werth in RF, Bryce Harper in LF, and Nate McLouth the 4th OF off the bench (all of whom can play CF and mix-and-match if and as necessary). But I remain less comfortable with Scott Hairston as the 5th OF, and even less comfortable with Tyler Moore on the depth chart in LF. I continue to hope that if the Nats are truly still in the market for another ‘impact’ bat off the bench — and I’m not convinced they are — they find someone like Jeff Baker who can play multiple positions, including the OF corners. I’ve also wondered whether Scott Boras shouldn’t be whispering into Danny Espinosa’s ear that he might want to learn to play the OF to add to his potential value and saleability as a multiple-position utility player.

  14. redskinscaio - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Nats did a great job in picking up Nate Mclouth. He will come in at some point and spark the Nats offense and defense in 2014. I’m a big O’s fan, and I was very disappointed that they lost him to the Nats. If Span falters in the beginning of the season, McLouth will pick up the slack.

  15. cayucosbaseballconservancy - Jan 21, 2014 at 11:37 PM

    Uhhmmm I think the editor made a mistake on this article.

    I think you meant to say hand the job to Michael Taylor the best fielding CF in the system and likely among those on the roster in the majors. Goodwin looks like a future corner outfielder to most every scout. Kind of like putting Destin Hood, who is the same age in center at this point.

Archives

FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 96 66 --
ATLANTA 79 83 17.0
NEW YORK 79 83 17.0
MIAMI 77 85 19.0
PHILADELPHIA 73 89 23.0

NL POSTSEASON SCHEDULE

NL WILD CARD GAME
WED: Giants at Pirates, 8:07 p.m. (ESPN)

NLDS
FRI: Game 1, Pirates at Nats, 12:07 p.m.,
OR Giants at Nats, 3:07 p.m. (FS1)
SAT: Game 2, PIT/SF at Nats, 5:37 p.m. (FS1)
MON: Game 3, Nats at PIT/SF, TBA (MLBN)
TUE: Game 4, Nats at PIT/SF, TBA (FS1)*
OCT. 9: Game 5, PIT/SF at Nats, TBA (FS1)*
*if necessary

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

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