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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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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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