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Span trade has plenty of ramifications for Nats


Span trade has plenty of ramifications for Nats

The Nationals have been searching for a leadoff hitter and center fielder since ... well, since before they were the Nationals.

This is a franchise that has tried in vain for eight seasons to develop or acquire someone who possessed both the ability to play center field and hit at the top of a big-league lineup.

First there was Endy Chavez. Then there was Brandon Watson. Then Nook Logan. Then Lastings Milledge. Then Nyjer Morgan. The list also included, at various times, Justin Maxwell, Marlon Byrd, Willie Harris, Preston Wilson, Ryan Langerhans, Ryan Church, Elijah Dukes, Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and even a guy named Jorge Padilla who even the most knowledgeable Nationals fan would never remember existed.

All told, 32 different men have played center field for the Nationals since 2005 (tied with the Red Sox and Athletics for most in the majors).

So there was some real purpose behind yesterday's trade with the Twins for Denard Span. This wasn't simply an attempt by Mike Rizzo to shore up a small leak. This was an attempt by Rizzo to plug a hole that had existed for eight years.

Will Span be the guy who at long last produces in that vital role? There are no guarantees in life, but he certainly comes to Washington with a far better track record and body of work than any of those 32 previous center fielders.

This is a career .284 hitter with a .357 on-base percentage, spectacular range in center field -- only Michael Bourn rated better defensively last season -- and the ability to put bat on ball. Span struck out in a meager 10.7 percent of his plate appearances last season, well below the league average of 17.2 percent.

He even hits left-handers (.293) better than right-handers (.280) over his career, a rare skill for players of his ilk.

"I think he's going to bring a dimension to the club that we haven't had before," Rizzo said. "A fast-moving, exciting guy that makes contact and moves the ball around and can fly around the field. It gives us added speed, stolen base potential and a guy that can really run down balls, which will further help our pitching staff."

Was the price to acquire Span steep? Yes, it was. Alex Meyer is no slouch, a 6-foot-9 beast of a right-hander whose fastball approaches triple digits and who should be on a fast track to the big leagues after dominating both low- and high-Class A last season.

But the price to acquire Gio Gonzalez one year ago (four top prospects) was far steeper, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining about that trade today.

What makes this particular deal all the more fascinating, though, is the domino effect it will have on so many other aspects of the Nationals, in 2013 and beyond.

Span's arrival will push Bryce Harper to one of the corner outfield positions; the hunch here is that he'll go to left field, with Jayson Werth wanting to remain in right field, though those two could wind up swapping spots somewhere down the road.

It also pushes Werth out of the leadoff spot and perhaps Harper out of the No. 2 spot in Davey Johnson's lineup.

All of that, of course, will depend on the name of the Nationals' first baseman in 2013. Will it be Adam LaRoche or Michael Morse? Only one can return.

The easy (and perhaps likeliest) scenario will have LaRoche signing with another club (perhaps the Red Sox, Orioles or Rangers) and Morse shifting to first base. And that may well happen.

But make no mistake, the Nationals still want to re-sign LaRoche, and would prefer to bring him back on a reasonable deal (two, though probably not three, guaranteed years) and then trade Morse (who will be a free agent next winter and most likely won't be re-signed regardless.

Think about this potential lineup should the Nats and LaRoche somehow find common terms:

CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki

Even if LaRoche walks and Morse stays, the Nationals still will boast a potent lineup, top-to-bottom. If LaRoche returns, there won't be a better defensive team in baseball.

Above all else, Rizzo has ensured he'll still have plenty of money left over to spend on his remaining offseason needs. If the Nationals don't re-sign LaRoche and don't tender John Lannan a contract before tonight's deadline, they'll have roughly $90 million committed to next year's payroll. (That figure includes the raises all their arbitration-eligible players are likely to receive.)

The Nationals opened 2012 with a payroll of $92 million, and they're perfectly capable and willing to increase that number in 2013. Whether it's LaRoche, a front-line starting pitcher, a veteran reliever or some combination of all that, the funds are there for Rizzo to continue improving a roster that already won 98 games a year ago (without getting a full season of contribution from either Harper or Stephen Strasburg).

Yes, the Nationals are making a real run at winning the 2013 World Series, without sacrificing their chances of winning it in 2014 or 2015. They've got players at seven of the eight everyday positions, four starting pitchers and five relievers under their control for at least the next three seasons.

As always, there are no guarantees in baseball. The Nationals might not win a World Series in the next three years, let alone even reach the playoffs.

But no franchise in the sport is better assembled to win now and down the road than the Nationals. And yesterday's acquisition of Span only made that statement more true.

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]