MLB Trade Rumors: Washington Nationals Cooling on Upton, Pursuing Span

Josh Sadlock@@JoshSadlockCorrespondent IIIJuly 28, 2011

The Nationals appear to be serously pursuing Denard Span.
The Nationals appear to be serously pursuing Denard Span.Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals were always considered among the favorites to land B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays

Well, it appears that Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has come to his senses and locked in on a better target.

CBS Sports' Scott Miller is now reporting that the Nationals are in serious talks with the Minnesota Twins to acquire their center fielder, Denard Span.

Nationals fans need to realize that neither of these players will be cheap. Upton carries all the promise associated with a former No. 2 overall pick, and Span is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game and carries an average near .300 to boot.

Yes, the Nationals will certainly have to pay a steep price to acquire their center fielder of the future.

But that is not to say they should not do it. 

The Nationals currently have Roger Bernadina manning center. Bernadina plays good defense, but after almost two years in the majors, he looks like little more than a future role player. 

With few center-field prospects in the Washington farm system, the position is possibly the only one that would be a weakness a few years from now when the Nationals are ready to contend.

Span is the right target for the Nationals. Upton never should have been on the Nationals radar. 

Upton has long been considered one of the league's future stars, an idea that is based on one very good season, 2007, in which he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 runs batted in. 

Since then, it has been all down hill.

Upton has always struck out a lot, on average over once a game for his career. You can accept that from a cleanup hitter, but not from a player leading off or batting second.

At 26 and with his average plummeting, Upton does not appear to have figured out major league pitching.

Consider that in his last five seasons, Upton has hit .300, .273, .241, .237 and .227.  His on-base percentage has also dropped similarly. 

These are not promising trends for a supposed future star. 

If these numbers were inverted, Upton would be a great acquisition. As it is, Upton is a 26-year-old living on the reputation the Rays built for him by drafting him second overall and the success of his brother, Justin, in Arizona.

Now, back to Span.

Denard Span would give the Nationals a true leadoff hitter, a role currently being filled by Jerry Hairston Jr. 

If Hairston Jr. is the best you can do at leadoff, you're in trouble. 

Span would be an excellent table setter for Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and in a few years, Bryce Harper. 

While Span will not hit for as much power as Upton, he will be on base a whole heck of a lot more, and he does provide decent pop as evidenced by his 34 extra-base hits last season. 

Span is currently making less than $4 million with the Twins and is signed through at least 2014. 

Upton now makes close to $5 million, and with arbitration that number will go up.  By the time he hits free agency in 2013, Upton could be asking for over $10 million a year.

So, what would it take to get a deal for Span done?

Since Span is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015, the Twins will not be undersold. The Nationals may have to part with closer Drew Storen and setup man Tyler Clippard. 

However, losing these relief pitchers would not be a crippling loss for the team. The farm system is well stocked with young arms, and if Billy Beane taught us one thing, it is that nothing in baseball is more overvalued than a young closer.

Ian Desmond also makes sense in this trade. The Nationals have a legitimate shortstop prospect in Stephen Lombardozzi, who continues to rake at Triple-A while playing excellent defense. Lombardozzi is putting up offensive numbers in the minors that Desmond could only ever dream about.  Desmond has become potentially expendable.

The Nationals appear serious about getting this deal done.

Maybe they were never as interested in Upton as everyone thought—it may have been a ploy to pull the Twins in. 

Who knows? 

These rumors appear to be serious, and if this trade plays out, the Nationals will have found their answer in center field just in time for Bryce Harper's debut and Stephen Strasburg's return to the majors.


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