San Francisco Giants: Would Denard Span be Worth the Risk?


The San Francisco Giants have accomplished their goal of upgrading their starting pitching, and they can now set their sights on potentially finding a new left fielder.

With the signings of free agent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, the San Francisco Giants have filled their most glaring team need. With that out of the way, the team can now turn their attention towards filling another, albeit lesser, hole, in left field. They were linked earlier in the offseason to some of the big name outfielders on the market, but by dishing out over $40 million annually to Cueto and Samardzija, they no longer have the available funds to make a big splash for a left fielder (at least, one would think).

They are almost certainly eliminated from the race for the top guys, like Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and probably even Dexter Fowler. On the tier below those players, there are still a lot of options left to choose from, should the Giants go that route. One of those options is free agent Denard Span. According to ESPN’s Britt McHenry, the Giants are one of at least four teams who have shown interest in Span.

There’s a lot to like about a player like Span. Since entering the Major Leagues in 2008, Span has been an excellent hitter for eight seasons, split between the Minnesota Twins and the Washington Nationals. Over his 950-game career, Span has amassed a .287/.352/.387 slash-line, and has been one of the game’s premier leadoff hitters.

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Span doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but instead uses his speed to make him an extremely dangerous hitter. He has hit just 37 home runs so far in his career, and has never hit more than eight in a single season. Instead, Span averages 19 stolen bases a season, and has stolen more than 20 bags in four seasons. He also takes extra bases, hitting at least 24 doubles four times, including 38 in 2012 and 39 in 2014. Span has legged out at least 10 triples three times, leading the league in 2009 and 2013.

Span is a fantastic contact hitter, much like the Giants’ most recent everyday left fielder, Nori Aoki. He has a career strikeout rate of 11.4 percent, lower than Buster Posey‘s career rate of 12.2 percent, and just over Joe Panik‘s rate of 10.4 percent. Since moving to the National League ahead of the 2013 season, Span’s 10.5 percent K-rate is tied (with Posey) for fourth-lowest in the league. Aoki’s 6.1 percent K-rate is the lowest in that span.

Defensively, Span’s speed allows him to cover as much ground as just about anyone in the game. He doesn’t have a great arm, but he gets rid of the ball very quickly to make up for it. Span has spent a good amount of time in all three outfield spots, playing 809 games in center field, 124 in right field, and 74 games in left field. He was a Gold Glove finalist in 2013 and 2014, both times as a center fielder.

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But just like with any free agent signing, acquiring Span comes with its own share of risks. Span is 32 years old, and in 2015, suffered through a miserable season of injuries. When he was on the field, he played extremely well, hitting .301 with 17 doubles, five home runs, and 11 stolen bases, but was limited to just 61 games over the course of the season because of a variety of ailments.

In December of 2014, Span underwent surgery for a sports hernia. In March of 2015, Span went under the knife again, this time for a core muscle procedure. The second operation caused him to miss the first couple weeks of the season. In July, a back injury forced him out of the lineup for over a month. He returned on August 25th, played two games, and went back on the shelf, this time to get surgery on his left hip labrum, his third operation in less than 10 months.

Span is said to be recovering well from the third surgery, as he is performing baseball work and running on a treadmill, according to his agent, Scott Boras. He is expected to be ready for the 2016 season. Despite the questions surrounding his client’s health, Boras still expects Span to sign a multi-year contract, even up to four years, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina, who also reported the Baltimore Orioles’ interest in the left-handed hitting outfielder.

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  • The Giants are looking for an outfielder who can play left field in 2016 while also providing insurance for center field, where Angel Pagan‘s injury issues rear their ugly head every year. This will be the final year of Pagan’s contract, and the Giants also want a guy who can take over in center field afterwards. But can Span be trusted to be available any more than Pagan?

    Of course, this is all speculation. There’s no real steam behind the “Span to San Francisco” rumors, and the Giants could go a lot of different ways to find a left fielder to fill the void that was left when they declined Aoki’s option. On the other hand, they could go with their top in-house option, Gregor Blanco, who has helped the Giants tremendously over the past four years, as their everyday left fielder. They also have a pair of good young outfield prospects, Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, that they could take a chance on.

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    If the Giants do go out of house to find a left fielder, they have plenty of options. Span is an intriguing one, but comes with a big risk. Time will tell if the reward is worth the risk for the team that takes the chance. After a serious operation on his hip, he doesn’t look to be worth a long-term investment worth any kind of “big money”.