Jun 24, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals outfielderDenard Span
(2) catches a fly ball during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
The Mets should be in the market for a center fielder and Denard Span represents an economical opportunity to shore up weaknesses. Marc Carig of Newsday has reported that the Mets may in fact be interested in the free agent center fielder who has a career .311 batting average against them while a member of the Washington Nationals. This should be welcome news to Mets fans.
Yoenis Cespedes will get paid by another team. As much as he meant to the Mets in their stretch run, his disappearance in the playoffs hurt just as much. The term ‘mercurial’ was invented for him.
Jason Heyward is a perfect fit for the Mets outfield and their lineup, but no one envisions the Wilpons writing a $200M check anytime soon. Justin Upton is also projected to cash in with a big deal this offseason. Dexter Fowler is a solid option, but the Mets would likely have to overpay to pry him away from the Cubs.
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Which brings us to Denard Span. At first blush this would appear to be typical Mets bargain bin shopping, but Span would represent improvement in a couple of areas that the Mets need to bolster. He gets on base and he’s not a station-to-station base runner.
Juan Lagares regressed in 2015 and it cannot all be blamed on his balky elbow. His defensive deficiencies were not all tied to his arm, as his range also helped to account for his overall drop in UZR from 18.6 to 3.5. It was obvious he was not getting the same jumps and taking the same angles he did in 2014. If he’s not in there for his glove, then he’s certainly not in there for his 3.4% walk rate, .289 OBP or .100 ISO.
Span himself comes with defensive questions, but they mostly relate to his health. He struggled to overcome from the core surgery he underwent in the spring of 2015, probably coming back too early. He would eventually shut it down for good due to a hip that also required repair.
The ailments translated to a career-low -10 defensive runs saved (DRS) and caused his RZR to go from .924 to .835. That drop-off is not regression, that is playing hurt. While you can’t shrug off those results and assume he’ll bounce right back, it’s also hard to assume he’s in obvious decline.
Offensively, you have to like his .365 OBP which is higher than any Mets hitter posted in 2015. He also matched Curtis Granderson’s stolen base total in half the plate appearances. We’re talking about a player who posted 3.7 WAR in 2014, and managed to contribute a .796 OPS last year while playing hurt.
Some may view Span as damaged goods, but it’s likely the Mets smell a bargain. Sandy Alderson has already shown with the near-trade for Carlos Gomez that he is not afraid to pull the plug if the medicals are not up to par. If he and the team medical staff deem Span good to go then a short-term deal makes a lot of sense.
Not only will Span be looking at no more than a two or three-year deal, but he comes with no qualifying offer attached. The Mets would not forfeit a pick to sign him. Don’t think those picks matter? See Michael Conforto.
A Span signing is obviously not a perfect solution. He’s yet another left-handed outfield bat. His health issues can’t be ignored and at 31-years old, a comeback is not assured. However, equally flawed is the belief that Jason Heyward has to improve because he’s only 26-years old. A short-term deal for Span lets the Mets maintain the roster flexibility that was so critical at the trade deadline in 2015.
You’ll be disappointed if you view a Span signing as a direct replacement for Cespedes’ production. A full year’s worth of Travis d’Arnaud, David Wright and Conforto will be the compensation for losing Cespedes. What Span does is shore up one of two glaring positional weaknesses for the Mets.
If the Mets were able to bat Span leadoff it would also allow Curtis Granderson to move down in the lineup to more of a run-producing slot. Granderson’s patient approach will play just as well in the third hole, where is 26 home runs will also result in more damage.
The Mets are not going to go out and get a huge bat to build around, nor should they. The key to their success will be an improved overall on-base percentage and RBI depth up and down the lineup. A little bit more athleticism wouldn’t hurt either. Denard Span fits with this plan and he will likely be available for a reasonable price. The Mets could do a lot worse.