Trading Denard Span looks appealing for quite a few reasons. The Twins are rebuilding, they need prospects, and Span is in demand. I can understand that aspect of it. However, I'm here to present some alternatives for the people climbing aboard the "Trade Train," and show why trading Denard Span would be a big mistake for the Minnesota Twins.
For starters, the team has other trade bait they could use—Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano, and Josh Willingham to name a few. They could also offer Trevor Plouffe, who has been red hot recently and could draw some interest.
While Span may bring in the most, the others would bring in some quality prospects as well.
The reports I have read have said the Twins could bring in a great bullpen arm. That is always a plus, but the Twins' bullpen has been fairly good this season. Matt Capps is pitching like he was before he came to the Twins and looks to continue his performance when he returns from injury. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton have given the team a veteran lefty and righty, and Alex Burnett has quietly been phenomenal, posting a 1.45 ERA in over 40 innings pitched, before his most recent outing. Even after he is still a team best 2.49 ERA. The problem lies in the starters.
So why shouldn't the team trade Span for some starting prospects? Well, the team already addressed that in the draft, spending 24 of their 43 picks on pitchers in 2012, and 35 of their 52 picks in 2011. Four of the team's top five picks were pitchers, with three of those projected as starters.
The Twins have also already found some fixes to the rotation. Scott Diamond has been a great surprise for the team. Liriano has been pitching much better since his return from the bullpen. P.J. Walters looked serviceable before his injury. Recently recalled Cole Devries has had success all season, having an ERA of 3.00 and he pitched seven scoreless innings in his last start. And if Liam Hendriks can ever figure out how to translate his great Triple-A performances to the majors, the team looks fairly strong at the position.
Add in the expected return of Scott Baker next season, as well as prospect Kyle Gibson, and major league ready pitching prospects are on the rise. Proven positional talent, however, has taken a nosedive.
So let's talk more on why Span is so valuable. His numbers don't overly impress, batting in the .260's the past two seasons. Part of that can be justified by there never being anyone talented hitting behind him. The real issue is his how smart he is when at the plate. He draws a lot of walks and has longer at bats than most of the other Twins.
This not only tires the opposing pitcher out, it allows the batters behind him to better prepare for what they are facing. He is a smart base runner and pretty fast as well. He doesn't steal a lot, but he gets good jumps on hits and takes advantage of his opportunities. He also hits quite a few doubles, being second on the team behind Willingham.
In the field, Span is very underrated. He can cover a lot of ground, has an above average arm, and takes the right routes to the ball. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions, which is rare in players nowadays. He isn't as good as Torrii Hunter was in his prime, but few people are.
Speaking of Hunter, after Span was drafted, Hunter took him under his wing. He taught him the intricacies of playing defense, and helped him develop into a better hitter. After Ben Revere was drafted, Span repeated what Hunter did for him, taking Revere under his wing. That kind of player is rare in itself, but Span will not stop there. After Byron Buxton signed with the team, Span played catch with the new rookie, and showed he would be interested in tutoring again. Span wants to teach the Twins highest paid rookie the ropes, and should be given that opportunity.
During this period of rebuilding that the team is going through, there needs to be the consistent veteran presence. While those players used to be Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, injuries have left everything surrounding Morneau uncertain. And while Span had his concussion last season, he has been outstanding this season, showing he has come back. So that leaves Mauer and Span as the future leaders of the squad.
Span has been the most consistent player all season. Batting between .280 and .290 for most of it. He is at his lowest point this season, batting .270, but he will steadily climb back up and continue to lead off greatly for the Twins. Mauer will be the all-star for the Twins, as he should be, but he started the season terribly slow, and it was Span who helped keep games close with his bat earlier in the season.
Span is also a fan favorite, which creates that extra draw in Minnesota. Why would the Twins, who are having some trouble filling the seats this season, get rid of arguably their second biggest draw? (No one will unseat Mauer.) Span has a huge following in the Twin Cities, and trading him would alienate that following, effectively losing some of their very limited fan support this season.
Also, why trade a proven player at this point in the season? Yes, Minnesota is last in the weak AL Central, but they are only 11 games out of the lead and 9 games out of the wild card. They have surmounted far bigger deficits in less time before, and their recent play suggests they could do so again.
The only reason they are so out of it is because of how poorly the team played to begin the season. The rotation is doing better, the bullpen continues to be successful, and the batters are improving. Behind the bats of Span, Mauer, Willingham, Plouffe, Revere, and catcher/designated hitter Ryan Doumit, this team has a very realistic shot to compete for a playoff spot.
To top it off, Span is still only 28, which means he still has plenty of years ahead of him. Trading a proven commodity now to get something that might pan out in the future is always a risk, but doing it to someone that will produce for quite a few years still is a mistake. Look at Hunter's career. He is still batting .270 with 10 home runs mid way through the season at the age of 36.
Span could be an effective player for the Twins the next couple of seasons. His eventual replacement in Buxton is still a long ways off, and no other outfielder has shown to be ready for the majors as of yet. Joe Benson has missed much of his Triple-A season with an injury, and struggled during his limited time earlier in the year. Aaron Hicks is still only in Double-A, and Wilkin Ramirez has cooled off drastically after his great start, making the team wary about calling him up.
Stick with Span, and have a proven player help make a playoff push. If the team does start to fall apart, try to trade a different piece, like Plouffe, Willingham, or Morneau.
Span's value to the team extends far beyond his numbers, and trading him would turn out to be a big mistake.