Denard Span Signing Is Savvy Impact Move in Otherwise Splashy Giants Offseason

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Denard Span Signing Is Savvy Impact Move in Otherwise Splashy Giants Offseason
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Denard Span isn't Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton. So if you were a San Francisco Giants fan hoping for another top-shelf addition in what has been a splashy offseason, perhaps Span's signingfirst reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heymanleaves you feeling underwhelmed. 

It shouldn't. Span may not be a superstar, and he comes with a degree of risk, but he's a solid, savvy addition who should fit in nicely with the Giants' overall vibe, as Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan opined:

Span's deal with San Francisco, pending a physical, is for three years and $31 million plus performance incentives, per Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News. It's not the $130 million the Giants invested in Johnny Cueto or the $90 million they gave Jeff Samardzija, but it's a significant investment in a significant player.

That "pending a physical" bit up there is important, as we'll delve into momentarily. First, though, let's make the case for Span as a strong, needed addition to the Giants' outfield.

He joins a group that includes veteran right fielder Hunter Pence, incumbent center fielder Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco, who has seen extended stints as a starter during his four seasons in San Francisco.

Span supplants Blanco on the depth chart and makes the most sense in center field, where he's been good for nine defensive runs saved and a 15.0 ultimate zone rating in his career, per FanGraphs. That would allow Pagan, whose defense has slipped precipitously in recent years as he's battled back and leg injuries, to slide over to left. And it puts Blanco back into the fitting role of fourth outfielder.

Regardless of position, Span should provide the Giants with an offensive spark. His best season came in 2014, when he posted a .302/.355/.416 slash line with 31 stolen bases and a National League-leading 184 hits and finished 19th in NL MVP voting.

But he's been a consistently valuable contributor for his entire eight-year career with the Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals, averaging 3.0 WAR per season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. More than anything, he knows how to put the bat on the ball: Over the last three seasons, Span has the second-highest contact percentage in the game, per FanGraphs

Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Span has averaged three wins above replacement during his eight-year big league career.

Signing a speedy, slick-fielding outfielder, and a Scott Boras client to boot, for around $10 million a season is a notable bargain for San Francisco. And since Span didn't receive a qualifying offer from the Nats, he won't cost the Giants a draft pick.

Which brings us back to that risk business. Span, who turns 32 in February, suffered through an injury-riddled 2015, playing in just 61 games and undergoing core muscle and hip surgeries. 

Presumably, the Giants will keep a wary eye out for signs of lingering issues when they conduct their physical. But even if Span checks out, he'll enter 2016 with reasonable doubts about his durability, to which he recently responded:

Impressive tweet-delivered clips notwithstanding, the injury stuff matters. Pagan, as mentioned, has battled multiple ailments, and Pence, once a noted iron man, missed extended time last year with a fractured wrist and oblique strain.

This group isn't free from red flags. Aside from Blanco, the Giants don't have a ton of outfield depth, though youngsters Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker and imposing journeyman Kyle Blanks could factor into the equation. 

If we assume good health, however, this is a high-upside outfield. Marry it to the Giants' enviable homegrown infield, revamped rotation, battle-tested bullpen and face of the franchise Buster Posey, and you've got the makings of an NL West favorite and legitimate October contender.

Eric Risberg/Associated Press
Johnny Cueto was the biggest splash of an active offseason for San Francisco.

Nothing's guaranteed in January, obviously. Like Span, Cueto and Samardzija bring some risk-reward baggage of their own. Samardzija led the league in earned runs and hits allowed in 2015, and Cueto saw his numbers tumble after a trade-deadline swap to the Kansas City Royals.

On the other hand, Cueto also hoisted a trophy with Kansas City. Now, with two splashy arms and a talented outfielder in the fold, greedy Giants fans can realistically dream about more hardware, confetti and even-year mojo. 

As Cueto put it at his introductory press conference, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle: "It's a team of champions."

Span has never won a championship, but he should fit right in.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

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