Mackey: Why trading Denard Span would likely be a bad decision
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Over the past few days, multiple reports have surfaced about the Washington Nationals' pursuit of Minnesota Twins outfielder Denard Span, with relief pitchers Drew Storen and/or Tyler Clippard as possible centerpieces for such a trade.
Former Nationals' GM and current XM Radio host Jim Bowden even went so far as to say "it's only a matter of time" until a deal goes down.
On Saturday afternoon, Yahoo! Sports reported that the New York Yankees inquired about Span as well.
Sidelined since June 3 with a concussion, Span is currently on the homestretch of a Triple-A rehab assignment, and the team is hopeful he can return to action sometime next week.
That is, unless he gets traded -- a move, as one MLB source indicated Friday, that would not sit well with a Twins clubhouse that firmly believes the team will play meaningful baseball games in September.
But ruffling feathers in the clubhouse is probably one of the last reasons why trading Span would be a bad idea.
Here are a few more more important ones:
If the goal of a front office is to acquire talented and productive players at reasonable prices -- particularly at scarce positions such as catcher, shortstop or center field -- the Twins have already done so with Span, who with his current contract will likely be paid 50 cents on the dollar for the next four years considering the production he is on pace to put forth.
As the 15th-highest paid player on the Twins' roster this season, Span, 27, is set to earn approximately $330,000 over the final two months of the year. He'll then be owed $3 million in 2012, $4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014, and $9 million in 2015 if the Twins choose to exercise a team option.
That's just over $23 million total being paid to Span through 2015 -- a time period that extends through most of his prime years.
Joe Mauer makes $23 million per season.
Nick Punto made $4 million last year.
Of course, Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap, but Span's contract and subsequent production only takes up a small portion of the $100+ million payroll.
Span gets on base. A lot.
The average major league on-base percentage for lead-off hitters this season is .330, and only four teams own lead-off OBPs above .360.
Span owns a .361 OBP this season and a career mark of .366.
Among center fielders with at least 800 plate appearances since 2008, Span ranks fifth in on-base percentage (.366), eighth in batting average (.289) and well above average defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating.
By no means is Span an elite outfielder, but he's decidedly well above average, all things considered, which is difficult to find at catcher, center field and shortstop, where the Twins are finding out they probably should have retained J.J. Hardy.
The lead-off drop-off is steep
In Span's absence, the Twins have been using Ben Revere at the top of the lineup, which worked well for two or three weeks, but Revere's .298 on-base percentages belongs nowhere near the lead-off slot.
It's likely Revere's on-base percentage will only climb as he gains more experience, but if the Twins are making a push for the playoffs this season -- as the front office has stated -- it will be pretty difficult to maximize run production without a viable table-setter.
Over the course of a full season, the difference between a .298 OBP and a .365 OBP is about 50 trips to first base.
That's a lot of extra potential runs.
Trading Span for a reliever makes little sense
It's simply a lot more difficult to find above-average starting center fielders than it is to find late-inning relief pitchers. There's a reason why a guy like Kyle Farnsworth (4.28 career ERA) can randomly pop up as the Tampa Bay Rays' closer and have success.
If trading Span is about fixing the bullpen for a short-term playoff push, keep in mind the Twins already have Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan for the eighth and ninth innings. Any upgrade would come at the expense of guys like Alex Burnett, Jose Mijares and Phil Dumatrait.
The going rate for an upgrade over Burnett likely doesn't cost a starting center fielder.
If trading Span is about shoring up the bullpen long-term, keep in mind A.) Perkins is under contract at a reasonable price for 2012 and could just as easily be moved to the closer role, and B.) finding viable seventh- and eighth-inning options through free agency costs anywhere between $2-5 million per year.
Finding an outfielder of Span's caliber on the open market costs much more.
Revere or Span? How about both?
As much ground as Revere has covered in center field over the last two months, his bat just isn't ready to be featured at the top of a lineup. Revere may cover a few more steps than Span, but Span still covers more ground than the average center fielder, per various metrics. He also has a stronger arm than Revere, which counts for something.
That said, with a spacious ballpark like Target Field, and with a pitching staff that skews toward allowing fly balls, it likely makes sense to pair Revere and Span together in the outfield.
Kubel and Cuddyer both become free agents in October. Young has one more year of arbitration, but there are currently no indications that the Twins plan to give him a long-term contract extension.
Revere and Span are both cheap, and both are under contract for the foreseeable future.
Among 120 outfielders with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2008, Span has been worth the 20th-most Wins Above Replacement (WAR), with his lowest mark being 2.6 WAR in 2009. Span was worth 4.1 WAR in 2008, and Fangraphs lists him at 2.6 WAR already this season, despite missing nearly two months.