Here's something you shouldn't do, at least at first: You shouldn't think of what Denard Span is not. He isn't a power hitter. He isn't a 25-year-old All-Star. He isn't Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton or Marcell Ozuna or Carlos Gonzalez. All of this is true, and there was probably a way to make the lineup better next year.
There was no way to guarantee that any of those deals would have made the team better, though. At least, not the kind of guarantee you would have wanted for an extra $90 million or so. Here, look at a table of WAR since 2012 (when Cespedes came into the league):
|Denard Span||Yoenis Cespedes||Justin Upton||Dexter Fowler||Carlos Gonzalez|
That's using Baseball-Reference's WAR, but you can use FanGraphs (which is a touch higher on Span's value) if you want.
Now, that extra average win from Cespedes is a big deal to a team that might need it against the Diamondbacks and/or Dodgers, so don't dismiss it. But if Cespedes was looking for a $120 million deal -- or more -- was he really preferable? And remember that he's not much of a center fielder, so he wasn't really an option to replace Angel Pagan in 2017, which is something the Giants needed to think about. The extra money could have left the Giants looking for a center fielder again next year, but with a budget that was even more limited. Now the Giants ostensibly have their center fielder, and they'll have the extra money, too.
If everything works out, that is. We'll start with what Span doesn't do well. The first thing he doesn't do well is hit dingers. He averages about five per year, and you can expect that number to go down at AT&T Park. The entire Giants outfield might combine for about 25 homers, and that's if they stay healthy. That's a drag.
The second thing Span doesn't do well is have a healthy hip in 2015. Which you would hope wouldn't be a concern in 2016. The Giants are getting him for three years for about as much as they'd pay Cespedes for a year-and-a-half, and that's exciting until you remember why. He was limited with his hip injury, and his defensive numbers suffered. He'll be 32 next year, which is right about when you have to stop explaining why outfielders aren't fielding as well as they used to. Michael Bourn was a defensive demigod until he wasn't, which was riiiiight about the same age as Span is now, except he didn't have a serious hip injury.
The third thing Span doesn't do well is stay in his 20s. It's a problem with me, too. Like most free agents, there's a good chance you'll wish he wasn't around by the last year of his deal.
Those are the bad parts. Those are the unfortunate aspects of the signing, and they're valid concerns. If you preferred any of the other options, that's what you're thinking about. But do take a moment to look at what Span does well.
The first thing Span does well -- and just add your own if healthy after every one of these -- is field. He's not just a capable fielder at his best. He wouldn't have done just okay at AT&T Park in the past. He was absolutely outstanding. He peaked at 20 defensive runs saved in 2012, and even with the bad hip last year, Inside Edge had him making two out of the five chances at an unlikely play. He certainly passes the eyeball test according to the Fan Scouting Report, too.
The second thing Span does well is get on base. His career .352 OBP has allowed him to maintain a career OPS+ better than the league average, despite the lack of power. He's also led the league in triples twice, despite playing in parks with boring dimensions both times. He would be a net positive to most lineups.
Don't forget that "if healthy" part. It's your responsibility at this point.
The third thing Span does well is steal bases, swiping an average of 19 per year at a 79-percent clip. He was a perfect 11-for-11 last year, too. The Giants should run well as a team again, at least when it comes to non-Poseys. Even better, he doesn't bungle nearly as much as Norichika Aoki, who sure bungles a lot.
The fourth thing Span does well is hit left-handers. At least, as far as left-handers go. He's certainly not a liability against them. So if you're worrying about a Span/Panik combo at the top of the order, don't worry about it. They're not platoon liabilities.
So add it all up, and is it worth the risk? Well, I have no idea. Sure, if the Giants take the money they saved by not getting Cespedes and Upton and spend it on a free agent who fills a need next season. Sure, if the Giants take the savings and use it to extend one of their younger players. Sure, if the Giants develop and/or trade the prospects they would have dealt away for Ozuna or Gonzalez.
Or, no, if none of those things are true, it's not worth it, not if Span is oft-injured and declining. A 32-year-old center fielder isn't anything to take lightly. Aaron Rowand was released when he was 33 if you want perspective. Plus there's the opportunity cost of this season. By taking a risk on a lower-cost, older player, you lessen the chance that the Giants are truly outstanding in 2016, when you know they'll be pretty good.
But we get to do this now. See what you think:
Span - CF
Panik - 2B
Posey - C
Belt - 1B
Pence - RF
Crawford - SS
Duffy - 3B
Pagan/Blanco - LF
Or do you put Duffy #2? Do you ignore the lefty-righty thing altogether? One thing I'm pretty sure about is that almost every one of those players makes sense in a major league lineup. And if Pagan doesn't make sense after a couple of months, the Giants probably aren't going to be shy about moving to their favorite contingency plan.
It's a lineup filled of hitters who can get on base, mostly. And if they can't get on base especially well, they can hit 20 homers.
The Giants' offseason has been busy. It's also been risky, as I'm not sure what to expect from Span next year, much less Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. You can at least understand why the Giants would chase those best-case scenarios, though.
The best-case scenarios are beautiful. You just have to accept that the worst-case scenarios can swallow you whole and spit out the bones. At the very least, the deal makes sense in a risk/reward context, even if it's not the deal you might have preferred.