The Washington Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span in a trade Thursday with the Minnesota Twins, filling a void in the starting lineup that has been present since the franchise relocated to the District from Montreal in 2005.
The 28-year-old Span is a highly regarded defensive player. He doesn't have a lot of power but posted a .342 on-base percentage last season and is considered a legitimate leadoff hitter from the left side of the plate.
Span brings a skill set that Washington has been in desperate need of. The Nationals played Bryce Harper in center field last season, and although he did a good job, the team ideally would have him in either left or right field.
When Jayson Werth returned from a broken wrist in August, he became the leadoff hitter out of necessity. Werth, like Harper, did a good job at his position, but general manager Mike Rizzo wants Werth to bat lower in the lineup to capitalize on his power in run-scoring situations.
Two summers ago, the Nationals were in the trade market for Span, but the two organizations couldn't agree on the players that would go to the Twins. This time they were able to reach an agreement. Washington traded minor league pitcher Alex Meyer, one of two first-round draft choices for the squad in 2011.
In 2012, Span batted .283 for Minnesota with 38 doubles. He struck out in only 10.9 percent of his at-bats last season, 14th best in the major leagues. In addition, he had 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts, and led all qualified major league center fielders in range factor per nine innings (2.89).
Of the potential risks associated with Span, health is the greatest. In 2011, he played in just 70 games due to lingering symptoms from a concussion he suffered on July 8 of that year. He battled symptoms related to vertigo in 2009. But he played in 128 games in 2012 and was productive, lessening concerns on the National's part.
The trade does create some roster concerns. With Harper moving to a corner outfield position, left fielder Michael Morse must move to an infield position or be traded. And still, the team is in involved in discussions to bring back free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, its best hitter last season.