It’s no secret that the Yankees were looking to upgrade their centerfield situation last summer, after all they had agreed to a trade for Mike Cameron in July before Hal Steinbrenner refused to take on the extra payroll. They didn’t stop there apparently, because they also made several attempts to acquire Denard Span from the Twins according to Joel Sherman. Without knowing for sure, I’d have to think the Span talks came after the Cameron deal was shot down since GM Brian Cashman probably went looking for a cheaper alternative.
Knowing how these things usually go, I’m guessing Minnesota was seeking either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain in the deal while the Yankees were pushing the Brett Gardners and Melky Cabreras and Ian Kennedys of the world. The money wouldn’t have been a problem for Hal considering that Span barely had more than a full year of service time and was making slightly more than the league minimum last summer. Of course, Span signed a long-term deal just last weekend, so there’s basically a zero chance of the two sides revisiting the talks.
The then-25-year-old Span was hitting .292-.381-.388 (.355 wOBA) with 16 steals at the All Star break last season, compared to the .283-.343-.424 (.338 wOBA) batting line and 23 steals the Yankees where getting out of Gardner and Cabrera to that point. Span’s defense in center was below average through the eyes of UZR, so the Yanks’ duo had the advantage there. However, a 38-point difference in on-base percentage is a huge, especially if you consider that Span would have been hitting ninth for the Yanks, serving as that theoretical second leadoff man.
Combining offense and defense, the upgrade would have appeared to have been marginal at the time, especially if Melky and not Gardner was involved in the swap. Span did go on an absolute tear after the break, hitting .331-.402-.443 with a .366 wOBA in the second half to help Minnesota overtake the Tigers for the AL Central crown. Melky and Gardner combined for just .258-.322-.375 and a .325 wOBA after the break, but of course all of that falls into Michael Kay’s fallacy of the predetermined outcome. The Yankees would have been (even more) unstoppable if they had a nine-hole hitter performing like Span was in the second half.
The Yanks won the World Series, so there’s no sense in contemplating how much of a help Span would have been to the team last year had they managed to pull of the trade. The real question is how such a deal would have impacted the team this offseason. Would the Yankees still have pulled the trigger on the Curtis Granderson swap? Would they have still had the prospects to do so? Swapping out Gardner/Randy Winn for Span in the current outfield alignment would be tremendous, but what about swapping out Granderson for Span? It’s an interesting question we’ll never know the answer too.
Span’s a guy that’s been around for a while, he was the 20th overall pick was back in 2002, and there was a time he was spinning his wheels as a sub-.700 OPS player in the high minors. For whatever reason, maybe a tip from Joe Mauer or just maturing as a player, Span’s plate discipline and walk rate shot through the roof in 2008, and he’s been able to sustain that success in the big leagues. He’s six months younger than Brett Gardner, and clearly a better player. It certainly would have been an interesting move, that’s for sure.
Photo Credit: Mark Duncan, AP