On May 31, the Giants lost to the Nationals, 3-1. Denard Span was 0-for-4, and his season line dropped to .231/.273/.380. He was one of the worst outfield defenders in baseball, and he was a leadoff hitter with a .273 on-base percentage. That wasn’t even two months ago.
Since then: .317/.376/.494, with 14 doubles, three triples, and four home runs. He’s walking more, and he’s absolutely scalding the ball. He made two outs last night, and both of them were line drives right at an outfielder. In a miserable stretch of baseball, Span has easily been one of the brightest spots.
With Span hitting for gaudy numbers, even at AT&T Park, he’s likely to be traded at the deadline, right?
There’s a chance. But I wouldn’t call it likely. There are a couple of problems when it comes to dealing Span, with one of them being nearly impossible to overcome.
This is the most obvious one, but it’s also the easiest one to fix. Span is owed $11 million next year, and he has a $4 million buyout for his 2019 contract. That means he’s at least a $15 million obligation for any new team, which is much more than he would be paid on the open market.
The solution is for the Giants to send money along with Span. It’s not complicated. It’s also something they’re not usually in the habit of doing, but this is a special circumstance. The easiest way to improve the Giants’ pitching staff next year is to get them an outfield that can catch fly balls, which means Span is the worst possible fit for the 2018 team. But he might be a fine fit for several teams out there, so don’t think of it as spending to make Span go away. Think of it as spending to improve one of the team’s greatest weak spots.
The natural follow-up. Other teams have access to scouting and statistics, too. They know that Span isn’t a center fielder anymore, or that he isn’t even serviceable there. His range has slipped, as has his first step. His arm might be the weakest in the league, and runners have been constantly challenging him and taking the extra base. They always succeed. Span is one of two qualified center fielders in baseball without an assist this year.
Which is all to say that another team won’t acquire him to be a starting center fielder. His defense is so rough this year that Baseball-Reference has him as being almost a full win below replacement — even though he’s an above-average hitter for his position, and even after park effects are accounted for.
(FanGraphs has him worth just over a win, but it’s also suggesting his defense is a lot closer to league average, which just can’t be true. You’ve watched every other center fielder play against the Giants. You know which balls they catch and which ones the GIants catch.)
The arm won’t play in right, so the Giants’ best chance is for a team that would use Span in left.
That brings up the biggest problem.
Lack of suitors
The Tigers gave J.D. Martinez away for a curious grab-bag of prospects, and they traded him to a team that didn’t have a renowned farm system. That’s because there just aren’t a lot of contenders looking for corner outfielders. According to Roster Resource, here are the teams with an acute need in a corner:
- Blue Jays
The Orioles are 4½ games back of the second wild card. The Blue Jays are six back. They probably aren’t so interested in Span playing left field for them next year that they’ll jump at the chance to ditch a prospect and commit financially for him this year.
That leaves the Royals, who have more of a left field/DH spot open. And it’s not really open, so much, as it is filled with Alex Gordon, who is having the 2017 Giants of seasons right now. Getting Span would be a way to sit one of Gordon or Brandon Moss without outright benching one of them.
I’m not sure the Royals would do that, to be honest. and they’re the only team that makes a little sense.
If another team is looking at Span to be their fourth outfielder and bat off the bench? Oh, sure, there are more suitors. But they sure aren’t going to pay $15 million for that. They probably won’t pay $3 million for that, which means the Giants would have to gobble up a lot of money just to make Span go away, and it’s not as if eating all that cash would get the Giants a top-100 prospect.
It’s something of a paradox, then. As soon as you slide the salary down far enough where a team would want him as a fourth outfielder, the Giants’ desire to give him away also slides down. It would be one thing if financial relief would get the Giants a top prospect. It won’t.
Add it all up, and I’m pretty sure Span isn’t going anywhere. It’s possible. He’s been a lot of fun to watch, at least as a hitter. And if the Giants are stuck with him next year, it’s always possible they’ll put him in left field and get a superior defender in center. That was the plan with Span moving Angel Pagan in the first place. They’ll have to do it again, I’m thinking. Hopefully this time, they’ll get a center fielder who is an obvious defensive improvement.
Either way, it’s unlikely that Span is going anywhere. The Giants’ 2017 trade deadline: Wrong place, wrong time™.