SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants built a dynasty on pitching and defense, and on Thursday they completed an offseason spending spree that completely embraced that approach.
Denard Span agreed to a three-year, $31 million deal, giving the franchise a new center fielder and leadoff hitter, and an offseason bill that now tops $300 million. The former Washington National will be introduced during a press conference Friday at AT&T Park.
“I’m very pleased to strengthen our club with an excellent defender and a solid top-of-the-order hitter who has a great track record,” general manager Bobby Evans said. “When you invest in pitching, as we did this winter, it’s important to invest in the defense behind them. We think this makes us stronger, deeper and better prepared to enter 2016 with the strongest lineup and strongest defense possible.”
Span’s deal includes up to $5 million in additional performance bonuses based on plate appearances and games played, allowing a player coming off an injury-marred season to try and recoup some lost salary. There is a mutual $12 million option for a fourth year with a $4 million buyout that is already built into the deal.
Span gives the Giants the outfield boost that became a priority after a dramatic rebuild of the starting staff late last year. The Giants had previously given Jeff Samardzija a five-year, $90 million deal and signed Johnny Cueto to a contract that could pay him $130 million over six years. As they worked on signing Samardzija and Cueto, the Giants kept their eyes on Span. Trainer Dave Groeschner visited Span in Tampa in December to get an update on his recovery from hip surgery, and the Giants came away convinced that Span would be healthy and a tremendous fit in the clubhouse.
The 31-year-old hit .301 last season with a .365 on-base percentage, 17 doubles, five homers and 11 steals in as many attempt — but he played just 61 games. Core muscle surgery put him on the DL to start the season and he had a left hip labrum tear repaired the first week of September, ending his final season in Washington D.C. Span told reporters that the hip procedure would require a four-to-six month recovery, and earlier this week he tweeted out a video of himself hopping over hurdles, with the caption: “I’m jus sayin.”
Span is said to already be hitting off a tee and throwing, and the Giants are confident he’ll be ready for action during the first week of spring training games. This training staff has dealt with similar issues in the past; Jake Peavy came back from a hip and back injury to pitch well in the second half of 2015 and Justin Maxwell had the exact same labrum surgery in August of 2014. Maxwell didn't have any issues once he joined the Giants the following spring.
When healthy, Span is a game changer. A speedy left-handed hitter, the Tampa native posted a .279/.327/.380 slash line in 2013 — his first season with the Nationals — and led the league with 11 triples. Span had a league-leading 184 hits in 2014, batting .302 with a .355 OBP, five homers, eight triples, 39 doubles and 31 stolen bases.
For his career, Span — a first-round pick of the Twins in 2002 — is a .287 hitter with a .352 on-base percentage and 152 steals in 193 tries. It’s a profile that makes him an ideal leadoff hitter for a Giants team that let Nori Aoki depart early in the offseason.
The bigger question regards the outfield alignment. Span has been almost exclusively a center fielder in his big league career, and while his numbers took a dip last season, advanced metrics put him in the middle of the pack among NL center fielders during his time with the Nationals. Span’s metrics in center are similar to Gregor Blanco’s, and he would be an upgrade over incumbent Angel Pagan, who ranked last among MLB center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved in 2015.
The Giants have always been hesitant to publicly discuss shifting Pagan, who is now entering an important contract year, but all indications are that the longtime center fielder will be moved to left, clearing a spot for Span. Pagan was informed of the Span deal before it became public, and while he has always prided himself on playing up the middle, he is expected to embrace his new role as the everyday left fielder.
While left fielders Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes remain on the market, the Giants never seriously chased either player and don’t expect to add another outfielder. Any additions from this point on will be to provide depth to one of the most talented rosters in baseball.
That means Span is the final significant move in the most expensive winter in franchise history. Counting the $75 million extension for Brandon Crawford that kicked off the offseason, the Giants have committed $326 million to four players in the past two months.