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Span might have been best option at CF

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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.

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MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

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USA Today Sports

MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

Two weeks remain in the regular season for the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and the rest of Major League Baseball.

Already, the Nationals have clinched a spot in the MLB postseason, while the Orioles are still clinging to an outside chance of making it through to one of the two Wild Card spots. If Baltimore were to make the surprise climb they would likely be the third team from the AL East to make the MLB postseason.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Washington is joined by the Los Angeles Dodgers as the only two teams to have claimed a playoff berth in the National League. This past weekend the Dodgers took two out of three in a pivotal series from the Nationals to hold on to the top seed. The lead is now up to 6 games for Los Angeles after it was down to only 3.5 games in the middle of the week.

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The Dodgers have not clinched their division yet but with their turnaround in Washington this past weekend it is only a matter of time. Leading the Arizona Diamondbacks by 9.5 games, the Dodgers magic number is only four. With 96 wins, Los Angeles also would be the team to hold home-field advantage throughout the postseason, including the World Series.

Only the National League Central Division has an interesting battle as the year winds down, but the Chicago Cubs maintain a four game edge over the Milwaukee Brewers. Right behind the Brewers are the St. Louis Cardinals, two games back. There is brief two-game series for the Cubs in Tampa Bay before back-to-back road series against the Brewers than the Cardinals. Within a week, this division could be flipped over. It is a near lock that the division winner will be the No. 3 seed.

Arizona is likely to clinch one of the Wild Card berths this week. Colorado currently holds the second spot, and they're 2.5 up on the Brewers.

If the season were to end today, here is how the National League bracket would look:

Wild Card Round (Winner-take-all):

No. 5 Colorado Rockies (82-68) at No. 4 Arizona Diamondbacks (87-63)

National League Divisional Series (Best-of-5):

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (96-53) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Washington Nationals (90-59) vs. No. 3 Chicago Cubs (83-66)

Wild Card Race:

Arizona Diamondbacks:  +5.0
Colorado Rockies:              ---
Milwaukee Brewers:        -2.5
St. Louis Cardinals:          -4.5
Miami Marlins:                -12.5

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Thanks to their improbable 22-game winning streak, the Cleveland Indians now sit atop the American League. They hold a slight 1.5 game lead over the Houston Astros for the top seed and home-field advantage in the AL. Both of these teams have already handily clinched their divisions holding on to the No. 1 and 2 seeds.

The incredible run by Cleveland has also put them 3.5 games behind the Dodgers for home-field throughout the entire postseason.

As it does seemingly every year, the American League East will come down to the wire. The New York Yankees trail the Boston Red Sox by only three games with their season series already wrapped up. Of the Yankees final 13 games though, 10 are at home where they are 43-28 on the season. Boston only has seven at home and six on the road. New York also faces an easier stretch playing opponents with a combined .487 win percentage compared to Boston’s .501.

Unlike the National League Wild Card, which is essentially down to four teams, the American League is wide open. Ten teams are mathematically still alive including the Oakland Athletics who are 17 games under .500. New York or Boston will likely take the top Wild Card slot with the Minnesota Twins currently holding down second. The Los Angeles Angels (2.0 games back), Seattle Mariners (4.5 games back), and the Kansas City Royals (5.0 games back) are giving chase.

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It will be tough for the Twins to hold on to the final spot with 10 of their final 13 games being on the road. First up for them is a three-game series in the Bronx. The Red Sox and Orioles also start a three-game series in Baltimore with much on the line for both teams. 

If the season were to end today, here is how the American League bracket would look:

Wild Card Round (Winner-take-all):

No. 5 Minnesota Twins (78-71) at No. 4 New York Yankees (82-67)

American League Divisional Series (Best-of-5):

No. 1 Cleveland Indians (93-57) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Houston Astros (91-58) vs. No. 3 Boston Red Sox (85-64)

Wild Card Race:

New York Yankees:     +4.0
Minnesota Twins:          ---
Los Angeles Angels:     -2.0
Seattle Mariners:         -4.5
Kansas City Royals:      -5.0
Texas Rangers:             -5.0
Baltimore Orioles:       -5.5
Tampa Bay Rays:          -5.5
Toronto Blue Jays:       -8.5
Oakland Athletics:      -12.0

MORE MLB NEWS: BRYCE HARPER NEARING POSTSEASON RETURN

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Nationals' Bryce Harper takes next step in recovery from knee injury

Nationals' Bryce Harper takes next step in recovery from knee injury

WASHINGTON-- Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper took swings during batting practice Sunday for the first time since hyperextending his left knee on Aug. 12.

Harper previously had taken cuts in the batting cage, but was on the field before the Nationals' series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His session included several shots deep into the stands at Nationals Park.

"Just trying to get out there and trying put the bat on the ball and just try to be as fluid as I can and try to get my swing back," said the 2015 NL MVP, who is second in the NL with a .326 batting average.

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The NL East champions open the NLDS on Oct. 6.

"I hope so. That's definitely in my head," Harper said of a return goal. "That's what I want to do. That's where I want to be. But it takes time."

Harper remains second on Washington with 29 home runs this season despite missing 34 games.

He was injured at home against the Giants when he awkwardly landed on the slick first base bag during a game that was delayed by rain. Washington placed the All-Star on the disabled list the following day.

"It just happened. It's something I can't control," Harper said. "It definitely was a freak accident. We put it behind us as quick as possible and tried to get everything going as quick as we could. And then it was all behind me. I didn't really worry about it much."

The right fielder said he tested the knee Sunday running to first base. "Felt fine. Just super-easy. Just kind of jogging to first and trying to get the feel for it again. Running to first feels a lot more comfortable than running on the track. "

Harper said timing in the batter's box could be a process. If his return matches the start of the postseason, he'll have to adjust on the fly.

"It's definitely going to be a tough thing," Harper said. "If we play Chicago, I might be facing Jon Lester for my first at-bat in six weeks. That's a tough task. It's going to take some time. Hopefully, I can get back and get going a little sooner than later."

Harper was succinct with his biggest physical test remaining.

"Playing in a baseball game. That's going to be the biggest thing, getting in there and playing the game and feeling good," he said. "As long as I'm healthy, that's all I want."