The Mets are looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder to complement Juan Lagares in center field in 2016, and have reportedly shown interest in free agent OF Denard Span.
Span is a catalyst for the top of the lineup. He doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but he makes contact, has first-to-third speed, and when he’s healthy, can be counted on for 200-plus total bases thanks to his ability to take advantage of big ballparks with his triples speed.
Acquiring Span would go a long way towards improving the team’s on-base percentage, and it would allow Curtis Granderson to be moved towards the middle of the lineup as well where his power could be much more valuable.
Certainly, someone like Span doesn’t account for the power lost from Yoenis Cespedes, but he provides a different kind of production with his speed, ability to create run scoring opportunities and ability to make contact. That can only help the swing-and-miss bats in David Wright and Lucas Duda see more strikes and get more fastballs to hit, and along with growth from Michael Conforto a full season of Travis d’Arnaud and utilizing Granderson’s bat in the middle of the lineup, that could also help account for the loss of Cespedes.
But Span missed a lot of time in 2015 due to a bad back. And his absence cost the Nationals dearly too – they were 36-25 when he played, 47-54 when he did not play.
He underwent season-ending hip surgery in late August, but that could mean Span might sign an under-market deal, and try to rebuild some of his value for another run through free agency.
But in a small sample size, Span mashed right-handed pitching in 2015 – he hit .335/.393/.486 with 90 total bases in 56 games. He was mostly ineffective against left-handed pitching, however, posting a .197/.279/.262 line with 16 total bases against southpaws. But neither are in-line with his career marks, as he’s historically been an effective hitter against left-handers, posting a .274/.351/.365 line and a more modest but still impressive .293/.353/.407 mark against right-handers.
He’s a little older now, and his back and hip issues could create some red flags for teams like the Mets who need his type of presence at the top of the lineup. His defense has also regressed in the last two years, and it’s unclear if that will improve as he enters his age-32 season in 2016, especially after hip labrum surgery. And there’s a legitimate question as to whether or not Span will be ready for spring training and Opening Day, and how much this hip injury might ultimately diminish the 32-year-old’s primary skill sets.
But if he’s healthy, Span is a proven commodity for the top of any lineup, and his historical marks against both right-handers and left-handers could prove to be a tremendous insurance policy for Juan Lagares who, in fairness, the jury is still out on.
The Mets have indeed checked in on Span, according to Kristie Ackert of the Daily News. But they do not currently want to sign him for more than two years, which is sensible considering his health concerns.
In addition, his agent, Scott Boras, told reporters on Wednesday Span is not inclined to sign anywhere to be in a platoon.
Of course, the Mets should not be guaranteeing anything to Lagares, despite his prowess against left-handed pitching in 2015. If an upgrade comes along that fits the Mets, they should consider that upgrade even if it means Lagares becomes a fourth outfielder.
The Mets may have company in their pursuit of Span, and it’s the team the Mets already lost their top free agent pursuit to.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is reporting the Cubs have shown interest in signing Span as well.
Signing Span would make sense for the Cubs as well, as doing so would allow them to fill their opening in center field while netting a compensation pick after allowing Dexter Fowler to go via free agency.
And certainly, seeing another target go to Chicago would sting even more for the Mets, if that ultimately transpires.
In addition to the Mets and Cubs, Span has reportedly drawn interest from the Orioles this winter.
Original post: Dec. 9, 10:05 am
Updated: 5:15 pm