The Nationals got their man, Denard Span, to play centerfield for them for the foreseeable future. The Nats picked up Span in exchange for 6’9” righty Alex Meyer who was taken 23rd overall in 2011. He had an ERA under three and more than a K per inning at a couple of stops at A-Ball last season, and he profiles as the type of pitcher who could one day be a top of the rotation force some day. For now though, it’s the Nats who get the playable big league piece in Span, and the one that has some price certainty locked in as well (he makes $4.75 million in ’13, $6.5 in ’14 and has a team option for $9 million for ’15). This move solidifies the Nationals outfield – Span will be flanked by Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth – while opening up the question of whether or not this move ends the run of Adam LaRoche in D.C. (LaRoche is a free agent whereas the club has Mike Morse under contract, and he can obviously take over at first base full-time with no issue). With that background, let’s get down to breaking down the prospects of Span.
Span has hit .284 during his big league career, though it should be noted that he hasn’t reached that mark the past three seasons (he hit .294 and .311 his first two years). Span slipped to .264 in his third season, and he matched that total again in 2011 as injuries limited him to 70 games. He rebounded last year to hit .283, to it’s pretty safe to assume he’s a .280+ hitter especially when you consider that his career line drive rate (20.4 percent) and BABIP (.320) suggest that is also a reasonable projections. Unfortunately that average comes with no power whatsoever. Span has hit a total of 23 homers in his career, has failed to post a SLG of .400 the past three years, and owns a 2.08 career GB/FB ratio. Given his skill set that is certainly playing to his talents, so while we down his fantasy value for it, that’s the way he will be a successful big league hitter.
Span knows to beat the ball into the ground and run really fast, and he does that well. Once he gets on base, he’s no afraid to use those wheels to steal a bag. A 2-time 20 steal man, he also has seasons of 18 and 17 thefts, and per 150 games he averages 23 steals. He may not be a burner, but you can expect him to push at least 20 thefts in his new home in Washington, especially if he returns to getting on base as he did early in his career. Why do I say that? The first two years that Span played his OBP was .390, an excellent number. The past three years that number has fallen to a barely better than league average .334. What if we split the difference and say that he is a .357 type of guy since that just so happens to be his career average? I’d be OK with that as the target number.
So we have a guy who produces a solid average, gets on base, steals a few bags, an isn’t shy about scoring runs. In two of the three seasons in which he has 500 at-bats he has scored at least 85 runs (71, 85 and 97), and per 150 games his average would lead to 92 runs scored. So let’s play this out. If Span hits .284 with 92 runs scored and 23 steals in 2013, could you live with five homers and 45 RBIs if he was your 5th outfielder, right? I think most people could.
Now I’ve mentioned 150 games played a couple of times, and that may be the key with Span. Only once has he appeared in 150 games, and over the last four years his average season has led to 124 games played, and that’s just not going to cut it. Span missed time last year due to a concussion, right collarbone issues, shoulder issues and hamstring soreness. Give his game, he needs to be in the lineup on a daily basis or his fantasy valued is further curtailed. With an average of just 99 games played the last two years, even if you are a Nationals fan, you should be able to stop yourself from buying too much into the hype with Span once we get closer to draft time.
Denard Span is a terrific baseball player. At the same time, he’s a minor player in mixed leagues because he doesn’t have an outstanding skill that equates to fantasy greatness. I’m not saying that he isn’t a player you can have on a championship team, if he’s your 5th outfielder you are in good shape, but realize that there just isn’t enough to hang your hat on with Span in terms of him being a beacon of greatness for a fantasy club.
By Ray Flowers