As we head into the final week before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, one name to keep in mind for the Nationals with regard to center field is Denard Span.
The Twins center fielder, who is currently rehabbing a concussion suffered in a home plate collision on June 3, is high on the Nationals list of targets as they continue to look to upgrade their center field/leadoff spot on their roster, according to multiple sources.
Before the injury, Span, in his second year as every day center fielder but fourth in the major leagues with the Twins, was hitting .294 with a .361 on-base percentage and had struck out just two more times that he walked (24 BB, 24 K), hitting almost exclusively out of the leadoff spot.
There are a few reasons why Span, 27, could be a fit with the Nationals. First: The Twins have a surplus of outfielders when healthy and are once again looking for relief help. The Nationals have some of the best relievers in the National League, including All-Star Tyler Clippard and closer Drew Storen. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo will listen on almost anyone but he won’t give up pieces of what he considers to be the team’s core without getting a hefty return — and that means a young, talented, controllable player. Span, who is locked up through 2014 with a club option for 2015, is all of those things.
With his injury, the Nationals would likely need to do extensive medical research on Span to be sure of his health, but the media reports from Span’s rehab are that he’s close and he hasn’t suffered any major setbacks.
It’s also important to note that, like most GMs, Rizzo enjoys dealing with the GMs he’s dealt with before. You don’t need to look too far to see that history, it’s standing behind home plate most nights in catcher Wilson Ramos, sent to the Nationals last deadline for another All-Star reliever, Matt Capps.
The Nationals have given, and continue to give, Roger Bernadina every opportunity to prove himself the team’s ever day center fielder and leadoff man. His average on the whole (.260) isn’t bad but out of the leadoff spot exclusively, he’s hitting .221 with a .290 on-base percentage this season, both numbers the Nationals would clearly like to see improved. Bernadina has exceptional speed and beats out both bunts and infield singles, but doesn’t walk much (just 17 times in 225 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter) and strikes out a lot (45 times when batting first).
There is thought within the organization that while Bernadina possesses the tools and athleticism to play center field well, he profiles more as a corner outfielder. He has made some outstanding plays in center but occasionally takes poor routes on easier balls to play. Outfield is also where the Nationals consider themselves to be the thinnest when it comes to MLB-ready or almost-MLB-ready players.
What they would get in Span would be an established center fielder with a proven track record both there and as a leadoff hitter — basically exactly what they’ve been looking for. Span has better recent numbers than B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays, a name also linked often to the Nationals and a guy who grew up playing with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
These aren’t the only two names the Nationals have been bandying about. They’ve also been linked to Houston’s Michael Bourn — who would no doubt come with a large price tag. But, again, things change this time of year minute to minute. Ultimately it comes down to the price and the Nationals aren’t in a desperate position where they would forfeit some of their future for something they didn’t think would pay dividends both now and for years to come.