Just a couple of days after Denard Span was named the Nationals’ recipient of the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award, there’s a report that the Nats might be open to trading their speedy center fielder.
According to CBSsports.com’s Jon Heyman, officials from competing teams say that the Nats “appear willing” to listen to offers for Span, who hit .279/.327/.380 this season and was a finalist for a Gold Glove this season after going the entirety of the 2013 campaign without allowing an error.
Heyman couples that by noting that the Nats’ potential willingness to move Span could tie into them having interest in center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the top free agents on the market.
This report might get some Nats fans a little worked up, especially when you factor in that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client, and anytime someone is a Scott Boras client, they find themselves linked to the Nationals. Happens every winter, without fail.
Last year, it was Michael Bourn, and that was a situation where the Nats were actually looking for a speedy center fielder (and eventually found one in Span). Bourn was linked to the Nats for months, largely because he’s a Boras guy, but I had one high-ranking club official tell me that the Nats were never serious players for Bourn.
I’m not trying to discount Heyman’s report or say there’s no truth to the fact the Nats are willing to listen to offers for Span. But there are a few important things to note here.
This is the offseason, a time when teams often gauge interest in their own players just to see how much value they hold around the league. Span is under contract for $6.5 million in 2014 (a very reasonable figure for a solid center fielder who has a decent bat, can run a bit and plays stellar defense) and the Nats hold a 2015 club option for $9 million.
Why would the Nats not see whether there is a team out there that’s willing to overpay to acquire Span, or any of their players? If they can get a deal that they feel makes them a better team, might as well see what’s out there.
There’s also a big difference between taking calls on a player and a team making calls on that player. Just because Span isn’t untradeable doesn’t mean he will be traded. He’s a well-liked player in the clubhouse who is a model citizen off the field and finished the year on an absolute tear. No need to force a deal there.
With Ellsbury, we’re talking about a 30-year-old center fielder who has suffered a couple of injuries in the past few years that have caused him to miss significant playing time. Over the last four years, Ellsbury has appeared in an average of just 96 games a season, which will certainly give teams pause before giving him the type of deal he’s looking for.
Are you willing to commit to a six- or seven-year deal worth somewhere around $125-150 million for a center fielder who relies on his speed and is already in his 30s?
Yes, Ellsbury is highly talented when he’s on the field, and yes, the Nats have shown a willingness in the past to sign a Boras outfielder in his 30s to a big-money deal. But with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann in line for contract extensions, payroll rising due to arbitration figures for many players and the Nats still looking to add pitching, I don’t see Ellsbury as a legitimate option at this point.
This is the offseason. The Hot Stove is slowly starting to heat up. The Nats will do some talking and they’ll do some listening. But don’t read too much into every report that you see out there.