Nats acquire Denard Span from Twins for Alex Meyer (updated with Rizzo quick hits)

After a couple of years of searching, the Nationals have finally found their center fielder and leadoff hitter.

The Nats have acquired Denard Span in a trade with the Twins in return for minor league right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer.

Span, 28, hit .283 with four home runs, 41 RBIs and 17 stolen bases and a .342 on-base percentage in 128 games this season. He gives the Nats speed at the top of the order, will bring strong defense in center and provides another left-handed bat in the lineup.

Span is signed through 2014.

Meyer was a first-round pick of the Nationals in 2011 and was considered one of the organization’s top minor league prospects.

The 22-year-old, who stands at 6-foot-9, throws in the upper 90s and was considered a year or two away from being major league-ready.

Span is ready to step in and help the Nats win right now.

Update: I just got off a conference call with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who feels that Span will bring “a dimension to the club that we haven’t had before.”

I’ll pass along full quotes from Rizzo in a bit, but here are a few quick hits from the conference call:

* Rizzo said that he’d been in discussions with the Twins about Span for three to four weeks, but things started to heat up last week after the general managers’ meetings wrapped up. Over the last few days, talks increased to the point that a deal could be reached today.

* Rizzo said that Span “fits very well for us,” pointing to the center fielder’s defensive ability, speed and on-base percentage as his strong points. The fact that he hits left-handed will help balance the lineup nicely.

* Span is also a very high-character guy, according to Rizzo. We know how much Rizzo values character and a player’s makeup, and Span passes the test there.

* The Nats are still in negotiations with Adam LaRoche, Rizzo said. He also said that the team has had some inquiries on Michael Morse, among others, and we can expect those calls on Morse to increase in the coming days and weeks.

* Rizzo loves how the Nationals’ outfield defense sets up, saying the Nats have three guys who can play center field and cover ground in Span, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Harper will now move to a corner outfield spot next season, something Rizzo said was a priority for the organization because it takes some physical and mental pressure off the 20-year-old.

* Along those lines, Rizzo said that this deal “gives us some options” in regards to the makeup of the roster. The team can still re-sign LaRoche (although that appears less likely), or can slot Morse or Tyler Moore at first base.

* Span is due to make $4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014 and then has a club option at $9 million for 2015. Those yearly salaries are pretty darn affordable given what free agent outfielders are getting, and it gives the Nats plenty of payroll flexibility.

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