According to the latest reports from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Nats could be willing to listen on a trade for Denard Span. On the one hand, this is likely completely meaningless. All teams are normally “willing to listen” on most all their players — listening doesn’t require action, and for almost every player (except the Harpers and Trouts of the world), there is a price for which a GM will trade even the most integral parts of his team. However, trading Span, in the words of famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, does not make sense.
Since coming to DC, the Nationals have had a total of 35 players log at least an inning in centerfield. The National who has played the most at the position? Nyjer Morgan. Second-most? Denard Span. The Nats have had such centerfield inconsistency over the past 9 years that in one year, Span has already played there more than all but one National. And the argument for keeping Span isn’t just one of continuity. Span was actually quite good last year. Over the second half of the season, he batted .302 and had a 29-game hitting streak. With his plus defense, Span was worth 3.5 fWAR last year, fourth on the team. So why trade him?
As Heyman discusses, the Nats are one of the many teams interested in former Boston centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Signing Ellsbury would, of course, render Span expendable. But why should the Nationals bother with Ellsbury? Time Dierkes of MLBTraderumors.com predicts Ellsbury will net a contract of 7 years and 150 million dollars. Obviously, the money is a problem, especially with the Nats looking to lock up the rest of their core this offseason. But the length of the contract is equally as troubling. Ellsbury is already 30, a full year older than Span. Giving Ellsbury a 7-year deal would mean either watching a 36-year old with a history of injury problems manning center in 2019 or moving him to a corner outfield spot, where his slightly above league-average bat would not stand out nearly as much (assuming the bat is above league-average in 2019).
Additionally, a contract of that length would fill up the Nats outfield until at least 2017, blocking top prospect Brian Goodwin from ever getting his shot with the club. Span’s contract is the perfect length — he is signed through this year, with a $9 million club option for next year. This gives the Nats a chance to evaluate Goodwin’s progress at the end of this year, allowing them not to rush the 23-year-old, who had a .355 OBP for AA Harrisburg this year.
There are so many reasons why the Nats should stick with Span in the near-term. Making a splash for the purpose of making a splash would not just be a terrible idea, it could set the franchise back for years to come.