After the Nationals’ traded for center fielder Denard Span, opening up a host of options for the remainder of the Nationals’ offseason roster shaping, GM Mike Rizzo chatted with reporters on a conference call. Plenty of what Rizzo said can be found in our full story on the Span trade, in exchange for Alex Meyer, but here’s some more of what Rizzo had to say.
On how the trade came about: “We’ve been in contact with (Twins GM) Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins for approximately 3-4 weeks when we started discussing the deal. It started gaining momentum last week after the GM meetings and we started really making some progress the past couple of days.”
On what makes Span the guy the Nationals wanted: “He fits very well for us. First of all, outstanding character, big-time makeup guy, teammates love him on the field, off the field, community guy. I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve seen him since he played at Tampa High School and just watched him develop as a player year-in and year-out. His skill set is something that we were looking for. It’s something we’ve been looking for for a while now.
“You talk about a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range, sabermetrically and with the scout’s eye, he’s a front-line defensive center fielder. He’s a consummate leadoff type of hitter. He appealed greatly to us because of his skill set as an offensive player, high average guy, .350 on base percentage type of guy, doesn’t strike out, one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out, and can really really run from the left side of the plate, which keeps our lineup balanced. A guy who, in the past, has stolen a lot of bases and we feel is going to really come into his own as a basestealer with us in the National League.
“We like the fact that Denard is guaranteed for two seasons with a club option for a third. It’s a good position to have for any good player, and we feel good about the contract situation. But more importantly, we feel great about the player, the person and the skill-set that he’s going to bring. I think he’s going to bring a dimension to the club that we haven’t had before. A fast-moving, exciting guy that makes contact and moves the ball around and can fly around the field. It gives us added speed, stolen base potential and a guy that can really run down balls, which will further help our pitching staff.”
On if he’s the first true leadoff-hitting center fielder the Nationals have had: “The first guy with this kind of skill-set that’s an established big-league player. We think we’ve got guys in the system that fulfill this role, but they’re years away. They’re in the pipeline, and we’re looking for big things from them down the road. But as far as an established guy at his age, he’s a 28-year-old guy still just reaching the prime of his career, and I really think his game is going to translate to the National League very very well.”
On how the sides settled on Alex Meyer as the price for Span, and how difficult he was to give up: “We understand the process. To get a good, established major-league player at Denard’s age with the contract that he has, you’re going to have to give up a good quality player. Terry Ryan is one of the best general managers in the game. You’re not going to pull the wool over his eyes. You have to give to get and we feel we have great depth in our minor league system. We continue to call upon our scouts and player development to add to that system each and every year.
“To give up an Alex Meyer for Denard Span, it’s always a difficult decision to make, but one we felt fit our timeframe, fit our skill set and was something that the front office and ownership was willing to do.”
On if this move knocks out a lot of the Nationals’ offseason goals: “It was one of the goals that we had, to fill this spot. We had a lot of options. We could have stayed with (Bryce Harper) in center field. He’s a terrific young center fielder. But we feel like for his long-term development and his career path we wanted to move him out of the taxing position of center field, both mentally taxing and physically taxing. We’ve accomplished that.
“We also have a lot of other things on our agenda to improve the ballclub. Because as we’ve seen, the other teams in our league, they’re not standing pat. They’re trying to do better and we’re trying to put the right moves in to compete with them and to stay a competitive ballclub.”
On how the move affects the Nationals attempts to re-sign Adam LaRoche and/or Michael Morse’s place on the team: “Michael Morse is under contract for us. He’s a guy that’s a middle of the lineup, productive player for us. And Adam LaRoche was our first baseman last year. We’re still discussing with him and in contract negotiations with him. So it gives us some options in dealing with our roster.
“We’ve had some inquiries about Michael Morse and several other players that are on our roster.”
On how close the Nationals came to acquiring Span at the 2011 trade deadline and Span’s injury past: “We were in talks with the Twins a couple years back and tried to acquire him. The trade didn’t work out, the players didn’t work out that we were willing to give up for him.
“He had a fairly healthy 2012 after a concussion season in 2011. Our medical people cleared him for being able to sign him. He had an injury-free finish to the season and really had one heck of a season for the Twins. Our scouts saw him play very, very well. Our medical people cleared him, and we’re confident that he’s ready to roll into spring training. After talking to him just briefly before I came on with you guys here, he’s feeling very good about himself, he’s happy to be in the Nationals family and he’s looking forward to really getting after it this year and starting in spring training and bringing it forward.”
On if the move allows Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth to hit lower in the lineup as well: “We felt that Jayson was very selfless in his offering to leadoff and I thought he did a great job in leading off for us. But I think that his best skill set is farther down in a run-producing type of spot. We were willing to go into next season with Jayson as our leadoff guy because he did a great job with it.
“Harp’s a developing player, he’s still a young player with not many at-bats under his belt. I think that he can handle just about any spot in the lineup from 2 to 5 without much problem. When you can hit, you can hit, and he can hit. So he doesn’t change his approach where he’s at in the lineup. It wasn’t a big part of this deal to get those guys down in the lineup but like I said, Denard’s skill set really fit it to what we were trying to do here and the type of club that we are trying to get.”