The Washington Nationals will listen to offers for 29-year-old center fielder Denard Span, sources tell CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman. The Nationals' interest in dealing Span could stem from last week's report that Washington has shown interest in signing star free agent and fellow center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Taken 20th overall in the 2002 amateur draft, the Nationals acquired Span in a trade with the Minnesota Twins last winter, which sent promising pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins. After hitting .284/.357/.389 with a 17.1 WAR from 2008-2012, Span was slightly disappointing in his first year with the Nationals, hitting a below-average .279/.327/.380, albeit with 20 stolen bases and a league-leading 11 triples. The drop off in his performance was mostly on the defensive side, where he saved just 3 runs in the field according to Fangraphs, compared with the outstanding 20 defensive runs saved he had in 2012.
Even with a down year both at the plate and in the field, Span's stellar defense and lead-off style approach make him a valuable commodity who should be good for roughly 3 WAR per season for the next few years. His contract status is quite favorable, with Span scheduled to make just $6.5 million in 2014, while his controlling team also holds a $9 million club option for 2015, with a buyout of only $500,000.
In a weak free agent class, Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, and Carlos Beltran are the only true impact outfielders on the market, with the latter trio best suited in a corner position. The Nationals would most likely trade Span if they signed Ellsbury, but they could also be inclined to sign a slugging corner outfielder and move budding star Bryce Harper to center, making Span expendable.
Purely speculating, the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners appear to be ideal landing spots for Span, with each organization lacking an above-average centerfield candidate for 2014. Both clubs, especially the Mariners, have been linked to some of the aforementioned free agent outfielders, but Span's relatively cheap salary and defensive aptitude could make him a more appealing option.