Span might have been best option at CF

span_11-30.png

Span might have been best option at CF

After searching for a long-term solution in center field for several years, the Nationals entered this offseason with a bevy of options at the position. The free agent class was deep with B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, and Angel Pagan. Throw Josh Hamilton in there, the year’s top overall free agent, and few offseasons offer as many choices.

But instead of taking the free agent route, the Nationals pulled the trigger on a trade target long rumored to be on their wish list. In comes 28 year old Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer. The Nationals decided to go with a cheaper, more short-term choice in Span, but still got the leadoff hitter and defensive stud they were coveting.

Acquiring Span shows that general manager Mike Rizzo opted for flexibility over flash. But looking at Span in comparison to this year’s other options, the difference really isn’t that dramatic. 

Take a look at how Span stacked up against the free agents in 2012:

B.J. Upton (28 years old)

146 G - .246/.298/.454 – 79 R – 28 HR – 78 RBI – 31 SB

Michael Bourn (29 years old)

155 G - .274/.348/.391 – 96 R – 9 HR – 57 RBI – 42 SB

Denard Span (28 years old)

128 G - .283/.342/.395 – 71 R – 4 HR – 41 RBI – 17 SB

Angel Pagan (31 years old)

154 G - .288/.338/.440 – 95 R – 8 HR – 56 RBI – 29 SB

Despite being tied to the Nationals in rumors, Upton was a poor fit from the beginning. He bats right handed, doesn’t slot well at the leadoff position, and would require the biggest contract of the group. He does have the best power numbers of the four, but when healthy the Nats’ lineup has plenty of big bats. They needed someone who could set the table and slot their core hitters later in the lineup.

Bourn made the most sense for the Nationals of the three free agents given his track record as a leadoff hitter, but with his age and contract demands the Nats decided to look elsewhere. Span has a similar batting average and on-base percentage, also hits lefty, and also plays good defense in center field. Oh, and he’s two years younger (Bourn turns 30 in December).

Pagan may have simply been too old as well as he turns 32 during the middle of the 2013 season. He just won a World Series with the Giants, but was never linked seriously to Washington.

Given the age of Bourn and the sub-.300 OBP of Upton, combined with their asking prices, why wouldn’t you prefer Span? The Nationals will now have Span on the books through 2014 with $11.25 million owed and a team option for 2015. If they signed either Bourn or Upton they would be locking in all three outfield positions for the foreseeable future, two with massive deals. Just ask the Angels how that method can backfire.

Instead of sacrificing a lot of money to improve in center field, the Nationals decided to give up their best pitching prospect. Alex Meyer could someday make the Nats’ regret letting him go, but the short-term flexibility might be worth the risk.

24 hours ago it looked like the Nationals were in a tough position this offseason, trying to improve their outfield while preventing a drop-off at first base. Now the ball is in Rizzo’s court. He has leverage with Adam LaRoche, an enviable trade chip in Michael Morse, and a defensively sound lead-off hitter in Denard Span. 

Instead of making a move looking four or five years into the future, the Nationals have a solution for the next two or three years. By then prospect Brian Goodwin could be ready for the majors and, between he and Span, the Nats will likely have the position on lock throughout their championship window. In the meantime, Span gives them everything they wanted out of Bourn and Upton, but without the price and long-term commitment.

Papelbon's blown save snaps Nats' win streak against Royals

natscutin050316refframe_1.jpg

Papelbon's blown save snaps Nats' win streak against Royals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 walkoff loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: The Nationals were on the brink of their fifth straight win when Jonathan Papelbon took the mound Tuesday night, but waiting for him was the middle of the Royals' order in a lineup that can grind out at-bats and make their own luck as well as any team in baseball. They got to Papelbon and they did it their way: a soft infield single to beat a shift, a stolen base by a pinch-runner and two RBI singles to finish the job. The Royals didn't need a single extrabase hit to erase a two-run deficit and steal a win from the Nationals.

Mike Moustakas tied the game with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth and Lorenzo Cain ended it on a walkoff line drive to center field, as the Nationals fell to 18-8 on the season. Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Chris Heisey homered, Wilson Ramos returned with three hits and Tanner Roark made it 7 1/3 innings. But it wasn't enough with Papelbon's second blown save of the season.

What it means: The Nationals have to still feel great about their road trip so far despite Tuesday's loss, but the Papelbon failure in the ninth has to be concerning. It was his second blown save this season in 11 attempts. That puts him on a troubling pace.

Papelbon's drop-off: Speaking of Papelbon. He now sports a 4.50 ERA on the season after allowing three runs on five hits on Tuesday. It was a tough night for the Nats' closer, who has blown four saves now in 35 outings since getting traded to Washington last July.

Ramos picks up where he left off: Ramos hadn't played since April 24 due to the death of his grandfather, but he had quite the return on Tuesday night. Ramos had three hits including two doubles, the first to score a run in the sixth inning. It was Ramos' sixth multi-hit game this season and his first since April 15. The Buffalo is now batting .344 through 16 games.

Rendon finally gets a homer: One of the biggest surprises this season so far for the Nationals has been the lack of power numbers for Rendon, who two years ago was one of the best players in the NL. He entered Tuesday night slugging just .290 and had yet to hit a home run in in 100 at-bats. Well, that homer finally came in the first inning off Chris Young, a solo blast to left field. It was Rendon's first home run in 191 at-bats dating back to Sept. 14 of last season. Rendon hit 21 homers in 2014 and has the potential for even more. Perhaps that swing can get him going.

Murphy goes yard: Murphy hit his third homer of the season on Tuesday, a solo shot to right field off Young to make it a 3-2 game. Murphy now has three homers in 26 games with the Nats, which puts him on a 19-homer pace over a full 162 game season. That's a notch or two ahead of the 14 homers he hit in 130 regular season games in 2015, which was a 17-homer pace over 162 games.

Harper keeps scuffling: With all the talk this week about who should star in Space Jam 2, Harper has looked in recent days like he's auditioning for a role. Maybe somewhere in the galaxy right now a Nerdluck is blasting homer after homer into the oblivion. Okay, maybe not. But the real life Harper had another rough night Tuesday with zero hits in five at-bats and three strikeouts. Harper has multiple Ks in three straight games and is now batting .256 on the year. 

Up next: The Nats and Royals close out their series in Kansas City with a 2:15 p.m. start. Stephen Strasburg (4-0, 2.25) will look to continue his excellent run to begin the season. Right-hander Kris Medlen (1-2, 4.87) will take the mound for the Royals. After Wednesday, the Nats move on to Chicago for a four-game series at Wrigley against the Cubs.

Nationals minor league affiliate to play rare tripleheader

chasenationalsrefframe_1.jpg

Nationals minor league affiliate to play rare tripleheader

Here's something you don't see every day. The Single-A Potomac Nationals, an affilliate of the Washington Nationals, will play three games on Wednesday in a rare tripleheader.

Doubleheaders in baseball are common. The Nationals have one coming up in just over a week on Saturday May 14. Three games in one day, though? That's a lot of baseball.

Here's how it will work. The P-Nats and the Lynchburg Hillcats will play their first game at 3 p.m. in Lynchburg. It's a continuation of Monday's game that was suspended in the fifth inning due to rain. That game will go nine innings. They will then play two seven-inning games to close out their series.

So, barring extras, that means 19 innings of baseball. That's about the same as a doubleheader of two nine-inning games, but this day will have three different game results. 

A tripleheader, by the way, has not been played in the majors since 1920. It has been almost a hundred years and it may never happen again.

For more on the tripleheader, click here.

 

Podcast: 'Baseball in the District' - Projecting Harper's USA super team

natscutin050216refframe_1.jpg

Podcast: 'Baseball in the District' - Projecting Harper's USA super team

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

DOWNLOAD THE SHOW ON iTUNES

On this week's episode of 'Baseball in the District,' we examined the Nats' resurgence in the Midwest, Bryce Harper's surprising struggles and how the suspension of Dee Gordon could affect the NL East. We also projected what Harper's idea of a U.S.A. super team for the World Baseball Classic would like.

This week's episode also featured a very special guest: D.C. Washington, the national anthem extraordinnaire that has become a fan favorite around town. How did he get his name? How did he get his start singing anthems? Does he still get nervous before them? D.C. answered those questions and more in what turned out to be a very fun interview.

You can listen to the show on ESPN 980's website or download the show on iTunes.