It went cold for a few weeks, but after the Royals re-lit the burner by bringing back Alex Gordon, the stove stayed warm and the Giants snagged one of several remaining free agent outfielders.
Denard Span is a classic Giants player: high character, extremely high contact, solid defensively, few weaknesses in all-around game.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 7, 2016
Passan is right. So, um, how did this come as a mild surprise?
We’ve seen a lot of hitters linked to the Giants. They were supposedly interested in Chris Davis, even though they aren’t in need of first basemen. Davis can also play some outfield, but his price was guaranteed to be sky-high. It seemed like Gordon was their favorite … for a day or two several weeks ago. Even “Yoenis Cespedes” and “#SFGiants” were combined a time or two in national baseball writers’ tweets.
My prediction was that the Giants would eventually sign Dexter Fowler, but Gerardo Parra wouldn’t have been surprising either. Span seemed like the kind of player the Giants would appreciate for the reasons Passan mentioned, but the health questions threw me off. The Giants aren’t known for adding many players with post-surgical concerns, and Span underwent core muscle surgery in March and his year ended with a procedure to repair a labrum tear in his left hip on Sept. 1.
To the contrary, it was obvious why they targeted and re-signed Hunter Pence. He was an ironman until last March. Casey McGehee played 160 games in 2014 before the Giants traded for him. Despite some elbow soreness for Johnny Cueto last year, the ability to go over 200 innings was trumpeted loudly by the brass after they spent most of their winter allowance on both him and Jeff Samardzija.
Everyone knows Span brings some risk, but that’s not exactly interesting. The headline promised three such items; hopefully they’ll fit the bill.
1. Span is pretty, pretty, pretty good when healthy.
WAR says otherwise, but many believed he was the MVP of the 2014 Washington Nationals, a team that won 96 games. Despite Bryce Harper’s cartoonish numbers, the Nationals’ 2015 campaign was disappointing in large part because their leadoff hitter missed 101 games.
His career numbers are as follows (highlights portion):
- 152 stolen bases (78.8% success rate)
- Led AL in triples in 2009; led NL in triples in 2013
- .352 lifetime OBP
- The Giants passed this along: “9.34 plate appearances per strikeout the last five seasons, which ranks as the fourth-best figure among big league outfielders.”
He’s also known as one of the better defensive center fielders in the league. The metrics backed that up until 2014, when his range figures declined. Injuries clearly took their toll last year, but even a gimpy Span is a defensive upgrade in center over the incumbent.
2. The Giants take this “even year” thing pretty seriously.
Imagine how excited Giants fans would’ve been if they signed Samardzija, Cueto and Span after the 2014 season. They should’ve been excited anyway, since they had just watched another parade, but Cueto was second in the Cy Young voting that year. Samardzija would’ve gotten votes if he didn’t switch leagues in the middle of the season. Span finished 19th in the MVP voting, picking up one fourth and one 10th place vote.
All three players would’ve benefited from hitting the open market a year ago — none more than Span. Cueto wasn’t his normal dominant self with the Royals, Samardzija was all screwed up with the White Sox, and Span played well while missing well over half of the season. In effect the Giants were “buying low” this offseason, even though they spent a combined $250+ million on three players (throw in the $75 million extension they gave Brandon Crawford, and it’s tough to call the Giants “cheap” this time around).
Many thought Span might have to take a one-year contract to prove himself, but Scott Boras said that was out of the question at the winter meetings. The Giants made a tradeoff: here’s a reasonable salary ($10.3 million AAV), and along with it comes security (three years, with a mutual option in year four that comes with a $4 million buyout), plus incentives based on plate appearances.
In all, the Giants spent good money on three players who’ve proved they can look great. Span seems like the iffiest of the three, but he’s also by far the cheapest. Gordon got more than twice the total dollar amount of Span’s deal from the Royals, and Gordon’s offensive game (some power from the left side) doesn’t play nearly as well as Span’s (speedy gap hitter) at AT&T Park. And, unlike Gordon, Span can play center.
“If Angel isn’t leading off or needs a day off, (Span) can lead off.”
That’s what Ron Wotus told Ray Woodson tonight on KNBR. The Giants are notorious for sprinkling eggshells across the dugout floor whenever Pagan walks by, but it’d be insane for Span (a leadoff hitter in 4,121 of his 4,276 plate appearances) to hit anywhere other than first in the order.
The same goes for center field. If Span is forced to move to left field to keep Pagan happy, the value of this signing drops quite a bit in 2016. Doubly so if he’s hitting seventh or eighth. The Giants’ pitching staff wouldn’t get a boost from average or better defense in center, and Span looks like he’s ready to both hit and chase down some balls in Triple’s Alley.
I’m jus sayin ????? pic.twitter.com/b7QYRXfSuR
— Denard Span (@thisisdspan) January 4, 2016
“Contract Year Pagan” may be too tempting to let go. (However, based on the signings of Cueto, Samardzija and Span, the Giants might not put much stock in the idea that players rise to the occasion with free agency on the horizon). Since their top four outfielders are all over 30 and spent time on the DL in 2015, one or more could get hurt between now and April. But there’s something intriguing about the idea of trading Pagan for a prospect or two, with Gregor Blanco and Mac Williamson handling a left field platoon.