The Case For Trading Span
In our interview for the 2013 Offseason Handbook, Terry Ryan was careful, but stated the obvious. When talking about Chris Parmelee being a regular, Ryan admitted "We're going to try and fit [Chris Parmelee] in there somewhere, without tipping my hand too far."
Fitting Parmelee into the lineup as a regular means playing him at first base or in right field. That means moving one of four regulars: Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Ben Revere or Span. It's likely none are off the table, but Span is the most likely to be moved, not for any one reason, but for lots of little reasons, some of which are contradictory.
Center fielders that can get on base, have a little power, occasionally steal and play above average center field don't grow on trees. There is a reason that Span's name has been bandied about by the Nationals and Red at the trade deadline the last two years: he's a commodity. In fact, for those attached to the more advanced sabrmetric stats, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) pegged Span as the most valuable Minnesota Twin last year - above Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham.
The Twins find themselves desperately short of pitching and middle infielders from the majors down through the minors. But this organization can sure develop center fielders. Twins fans know that Revere could step into center field for Span right now and probably improve the defense. And one-level below him is toolsy first round pick Aaron Hicks, who is going to be better defensively than either of them, and probably better offensively, too. And Twins fans have also already been introduced to Joe Benson, who can also hold down the position.
He's becoming expensive.
Span will make over $10M over the next two years of his contract. The Twins have limited funds after two straight years of declining attendance. That is $10M that could (and probably should) be used on pitching.
He's not that expensive.
There are going to be several free agent center fielders available this year - BJ Upton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino - but they're all going to cost a pretty penny. A 2 year/$10M commitment to Span is going to look like a bargain comparatively.
There will be openings.
While the free agents above will be snapped up by the highest bidder, their former teams are going to be looking for replacements. The Rays are going to lose Upton and don't have a great replacement for him; they also have been heavily rumored to be shopping some of their better pitchers, like James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson.
Similarly, the Braves will likely lose Michael Bourn and they also have few centerfielders in their farm system. In our 2013 Offseason Handbook, there’s a whole essay on why it makes sense to trade with the Brave by Ben Chase. In it, he lays out the assets the Braves would consider trading, in order:
"The Braves would probably trade their eight starters in the following order (most likely to least likely): Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Paul Maholm, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Tim Hudson, and Kris Medlen. They've also got Brandon Beachy coming back midseason from Tommy John surgery and Sean Gilmartin knocking on the door in AAA."
Chase admits the last half of that list is off the table for Span, but several of the first couple names are in play, and each would provide an affordable upgrade to the Twins rotation.
Usually, when fans suggest a player should be traded, it's because they don't like him. Span, on the other hand, is well-regarded and maybe even undervalued. But a combination of traits - value, affordability, replacability and opportunity - make him the most likely player to be traded. And with the MLB General Manage meetings happening this weekend, it could happen sooner rather than later.