Three Reasons the Nats Should Not Trade Denard Span

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Nats are listening to trade offers for Denard Span.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Nationals are going to trade him, or even that they want to trade him. This might be a smokescreen. After all, somebody leaked this story, and they did it for a reason.

1.  He was one of the most valuable players on the Nationals last year.

I don’t think most Nats fans understand what a good player Span was because, lets face it, he was 8th best hitting position player on the team.  That is another way of saying he was the worst hitting everyday player.  He did lead MLB in triples this year.  That has to be worth something right?

Span’s play in Center Field this year more than makes up for hitting.  Wins Above Replacement was invented for a guy like him.  WAR takes into account all aspects of a players game.  By using WAR, you get a much better picture of how good of an all around player Span is.  He had a WAR of 3.5, which means he had the forth best season on the team.  Every player contributes both on offense and defense.   If you combine his base running and hitting he was a little above the league average  of 0.0, but well above if you count his fielding.  He won the Wilson Defensive Player of the year for the Nationals. If you take Span out CF and don’t replace him with Carlos Gomez  you make the Nats pitching staff worse, that’s just math.  His ability to catch balls in the gap with as much grace as anyone in baseball, improves the Nats in ways that don’t necessarily show up on the score cards.

Name Offense Defense WAR
Ian Desmond 15.4 11.6 5
Jayson Worth 36 -9 4.6
Bryce Harper 22.6 -2.1 3.8
Denard Span 0.2 12.4 3.5
Ryan Zimmerman 20.7 -12.3 3

2.  He is one of the best Center Fielders in Baseball

If the Nats were to trade Span they would still need to fill the position.  Lets see how Span stacks up against the rest of baseball.  Here are the top 10 CF in baseball last year as per WAR.

Name WAR
Andrew McCutchen 8.2
Carlos Gomez 7.6
Jacoby Ellsbury 5.8
Shin-Soo Choo 5.2
Adam Jones 4.2
Coco Crisp 3.9
Denard Span 3.5
Brett Gardner 3.2
Desmond Jennings 3.2
Austin Jackson 3.1

Well, it turns out when you factor in Span’s Defense he is a top 7 CF in baseball.  Remind me again why we are even engaging in this “trade Span” speculation.  Of the other CF above him it just so happens that Ellsbury and Choo are free agents this off-season.  Ellsbury wants a huge contract (100 mil +) and Choo is not actually a CF, he is a corner outfielder that runs out to CF every inning (-17 UZR/150).  Anybody else in baseball would have actually made the Nats worse last year.

Span was also a finalist for the NL Gold Glove this year, but rightly lost to Gomez.  If he had been in the AL, advanced metrics say he would have been the best fielding CF in that league.

3.  He fits perfectly into the Nationals big picture

The Span trade was so good for the Nats for a couple of reasons.  He has a very reasonable contract for the skill set he provides. This year he is owed 6 mil and the team has an option to bring him back in 2015 for 9 mil.  To put that into perspective, Fangraph places his value at 17.6 million.

The second reason he fits into the team’s plan is the top position prospect in the Nats Organization in Brian Goodwin who is currently playing in AA.  He is probably a year or two away from contributing at the MLB level.  It seems like Rizzo knows what he is doing.

Let me shoot down right now some of the arguments  for trading him:

Span can’t his lefties:  He didn’t his lefties last year, but for his career that hasn’t been the case.  Even with his bad split this year he is a career .281 vs L and .284 vs R. Span has played 6 season in the Majors, he has a track record, and it is good.  2013 was his first year facing many of the NL pitchers.  He should be better in his second year in the league as his second half stats indicate.

Span isn’t a good lead off hitter: Span doesn’t have a great OBP for a lead off hitter, but in the second half of the year he was 3rd on the team behind Werth and Harper.  The whole lead off hitter thing is a little overblown.  The lead off hitter only is guaranteed to actually bat lead off in the first inning.  He is a good base runer (20 SB) not a disruptive force, but he also doesn’t make dumb mistakes either.  I think the Nats have been in search of a lead off hitter for 10 years, Span is the closest they have come to an actual one yet.

Finally, this team in a two year window with this current group of players.  It should be adding talent not trading it away.  Span’s skill set matches perfectly with Worth and Harper in the outfield.

This whole idea of trading Denard Span is simply foolish.


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