The Washington Nationals answered one of their most pressing offseason questions Thursday afternoon, announcing that they have exercised Denard Span’s $9 million option for the 2015 season.
The team also revealed it has declined to pick up the options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and reliever Rafael Soriano, making them free agents. LaRoche is now due a $2 million buyout.
General manager Mike Rizzo’s decision to retain Span comes as no surprise after the center fielder’s production atop the lineup last season. In his second season with the Nationals, Span hit .302 with a .355 on-base percentage, scored 94 runs and set a team record with 184 hits. He is also among three finalists at his position for the National League Gold Glove award, which will be announced Tuesday.
“We knew when we acquired Denard from the Minnesota Twins two years ago what type of player we were getting,” Rizzo said in a statement. “And he’s done nothing but bear that out the last two seasons.”
Span will turn 31 in February and is now in line to become a free agent at the conclusion of next season. But after the Nationals’ loss in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, he said he views Washington a long-term home.
“I hope that I’m here longer than just one year, to be honest with you,” Span said then. “But we’ll see.”
LaRoche had a $15 million mutual option for 2015, which the 34-year-old first baseman said he planned to accept. But given his price tag, and the team’s plans to one day move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, it was not a strong fit.
If LaRoche does not return to the Nationals on a new team-friendly deal, he will move on to what would be his fifth major league team. Over his four years in Washington, including his injury-shortened 2011 season, he hit .249 with a .341 on-base percentage and a .441 slugging percentage.
Last year, LaRoche hit .259 with 26 home runs and 92 RBI but struggled in the postseason, recording only one hit in 18 at-bats.
The Nationals also declined to exercise the $14 million team option on former closer Rafael Soriano, who was demoted from his role at the end of last season. The cost Soriano’s option was prohibitive given his production, as the Nationals spent a total of $16.39 million on all of the other relievers in their NLDS bullpen combined.
Soriano recorded 75 saves in two seasons with the Nationals with a 3.15 earned-run average. When he was asked after the season to reflect on his two years in Washington, the 34-year-old offered a mixed response.
“I had a good time,” Soriano said from the visiting clubhouse in San Francisco. “Everybody always has some days, the fans booing you because you don’t do your job. That’s normal. It happened to me in New York. So what, you know? Keep going with my career, be the same and play the game. I had one more opportunity this year to play in two games in the playoffs and I’m really happy with that.”
LaRoche and Soriano join infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielders Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz as former Nationals who are now free agents.