Trading Denard Span Makes Sense, And Here’s Why

Denard Span has been traded to the Washington Nationals for minor league RHP Alex Meyer.

Span will be missed, but trading him was a necessary step back to respectability

Let me begin this post by saying that I believe Denard Span is a consumate professional, a class act, and a slightly above average — if not very solid — centerfielder. He’s left everything on the field for the Minnesota Twins in his career, and overcome adversity every step of the way. He was considered a potential bust prospect as he was an extremely slow starter after being taken 20th overall in 2002 by the Twins. In 2008, he ended up beating then-top prospect Carlos Gomez out for a job despite initially losing that battle and being sent to the minors. He kept grinding, and eventually ran Gomez out of town. He’s been a rock at the top of the Twins lineup ever since, and I sincerely wish him the best of luck in Washington, and I’m sure that he will be a great fit for the Nationals.

That said, Denard Span needed to go, and he needed to go this offseason. Span’s value was never going to be higher. He’s signed to a team friendly contract and is in the prime of his career. There are too many reasons to try to move Span and too little reasons to justify keeping Span and trying to contend in 2013. Let’s start with the makeup of the Twins organization. 

Although this cannot be said with certainty, my belief is that the Twins were not going to get a better return for Span than what they received from the Nationals. Twins fans need to look into the crystal ball and observe what the Twins are brewing in the minor leagues. Immensely talented Byron Buxton, a resurgent Aaron Hicks, smooth hitting Oswaldo Arcia, and potential position changes for both Eddie Rosario (currently a fringy 2B) and Miguel Sano (currently a butcher at 3B) have left the Twins with a slew of outfield prospects. Compare that to their pitching prospects: Tommy John recipient Kyle Gibson, unproven JO Berrios, and probable reliever Luke Bard are the only legitimate pitching prospects that have a chance to start. There’s just nothing there, and Alex Meyer is one step in the right direction to fixing the real problem in the organization.

Alex Meyer – 10-6, 2.86 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 139 K, 45 BB in 2012

Speaking of Meyer, here’s 3 reasons why most experts believe Meyer is among the highest ceiling starters in the minors:

1) He’s got an electric fastball, sitting anywhere from 92-97, and he’s reportedly sat around 94-96 consistently with legit life towards the end of last season. How many starters do the Twins have on their roster that can hit that number on a radar gun? If you guessed zero, you’re right.

2) When a pitcher has a wipeout breaking ball, I like to describe it as a Filthy McNasty pitch. Whether you want to call his breaking pitch a slider or a knuckle curve, it’s a Filthy McNasty pitch. According to most scouts, he has one of the best hooks in the minor leagues. That makes two well above average pitches, with the chance that his steadily improving changeup develops into a major league average pitch.

3) The Twins simply don’t have power arms like this guy in the minors. Kyle Gibson is the Twins best pitching prospect and he doesn’t have nearly as good of stuff as Meyer, although he is much more polished and more of a sure bet to stay a starter. The Twins didn’t have a starter with overwhelming stuff, and it has showed in 2012, particularly against elite hitters. There’s a reason why they can’t get Miguel Cabrera out, and it’s because he doesn’t think striking out is a remote possibility when facing Twins pitchers. How many foul balls have the Nick Blackburn’s and Scott Baker’s of the world induced with 2 strikes over the years? It’s time to start turning those fouloffs into outs, whether it’s a weakly hit ball or a strikeout. This is why Francisco Liriano was dominant in 2010: hitters were fearful of his slider, and the fastball had enough gas to get by hitters who were guessing.

So, you’ve read all this, and you still think the Twins made a bad move. After all, why trade a guy who, according to me, is in the prime of his career and under a great contract? Because the Twins are awful at the major league level, that’s why. There’s absolutely zero benefit to keeping Span next year unless you believe the Twins have a legit chance to get back to the playoffs. If you think that, then let’s review what the current rotation looks like:

1) Scott Diamond: 12-9, 3.54 ERA, 173 IP, 1.24 WHIP, 90 K, 30 BB
2) ???
3) ???
4) Cole de Vries: 5-5, 4.11 ERA, 87 IP, 1.21 WHIP, 58 K, 18 BB
5) Kyle Gibson?

To summarize, we’ve got a #4 or #5 starter as the ace, two pitchers who we have no idea will be, an undrafted free agent signing who was incredibly lucky, and a prospect coming off Tommy John surgery and will be on an innings limit. Not exactly the stable of arms you’d assemble if you were planning on making the playoffs. That’s why it’s the right play to move Span for a future asset that will be ready when the team is prepared to contend again. Am I saying that Alex Meyer is a lock to be a #1 or #2 starter? No, absolutely not. It would be incredibly obtuse for me to claim that. Alex Meyer is a risk. He’s got shaky mechanics and we don’t really know if his changeup will continue to improve to a level that is major league caliber. You need 3 legitimate pitches to be a starter in the big leagues, and Meyer still has to ascend to that level. But this lottery ticket is one worth holding onto and one that’s worth two years of a slightly above average CF who would have most likely been wasted on a bad team if Span were to stay here.

When talking about the Twins, if you’re a true fan, you need to realize that the Twins made the best move for the franchise. The front office is finally beginning to realize that with the market they are in, the franchise needs to look towards 3-5 year windows rather than trying to make gold out of manure every season.

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