By: Sam Ekstrom
It’s never easy to say goodbye to one of your own, especially a class-act like Denard Span.
Minnesota traded their former first round draft pick to the Washington Nationals on Thursday in exchange for highly-ranked pitching prospect Alex Meyer, ending Span’s five-year run in the Twins outfield.
The move comes as no surprise to people familiar with the Twins’ pitching situation. The main offseason goal was to bolster the starting rotation, and while this trade does not provide immediate payback for the major league club, it cultivates some hope that Meyer, along with Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Alex Wimmers, can anchor the staff down the road.
Still, it won’t be easy to replace Span at the top of the lineup. When healthy, he served as a tremendous table-setter for the heart of the order, using his patience and speed to get on base for the likes of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Excluding Span’s injury-plagued 2011 season, the center fielder was top five on the team in walks each year and above league-averages in batting average and on-base percentage for leadoff men. It’s also no coincidence that Joe Mauer’s last two batting titles (2008, 2009) were won in Span’s most effective seasons.
Fans will remember Span for a multitude of great moments. From his game-tying triple in a must-win game against Chicago his rookie season, to his three-triple game against Detroit, to his frequent dazzling catches, Denard Span did some tremendous things on the field. But it’s the way Span handled himself as a professional that endeared him to the Twins faithful.
Span’s gracious attitude could be attributed to the fact that the Twins were the team that drafted him, groomed him, and gave him his first shot at being a major-leaguer. Selected in 2002, Span worked his way through the minor-league system before getting his first call-up in 2008 following a Michael Cuddyer injury.
“It’s always tough to leave your family. It’s tough to leave a place you’ve been for ten years,” said Span to KFAN’s Paul Allen. “Minnesota is very near and dear to my heart, and everything I know about the game I learned from Minnesota.”
“I can’t even repay them for what they did for me and my career.”
Denard Span saw the best of times and the worst of times as a Minnesota Twin. The club reached a play-in game his rookie season before winning the A.L. Central each of the next two years. In his final two seasons with the team he saw them flounder to the tune of 63 and 66 wins respectively, finishing in last place both years.
Thursday wasn’t the first time Span’s name had been connected to Washington. The Nationals were rumored to be serious players for the center fielder leading up to the 2011 and 2012 trade deadlines. This offseason, however, a move seemed inevitable with the Twins pitching rotation needing added depth and Ben Revere ready to step into the Span’s leadoff spot.
While Span heads to a defending division champion, the last-place Twins are looking to fill another void. Barring more trades, Minnesota will have Josh Willingham in left field, Revere in center, and Ryan Doumit and/or Darin Mastroianni in right. Minor-leaguers Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia may also get a chance at promotion if they have strong spring trainings.
The moving of Span may be indicative of a large-scale rebuild. Josh Willingham has a team-friendly contract and is coming off a huge year, while Justin Morneau enters the final season of his $80 million deal. Both could be shopped at baseball’s winter meetings beginning on December 3rd.
As the Twins move forward into 2013, fans and management alike will likely look back fondly at their memories of Denard Span, and it’s safe to say that Span will do the same with his memories of playing in Minnesota.
Said Span on KFAN, “Hopefully the Twins invite me back to a reunion when I get gray and old.”