The Nationals’ Alex Meyer-for-Denard Span trade sends a thousand ripples in a thousand directions. The Nationals have made bigger acquisitions, sure, but maybe none that reverberate in so many subtle, fascinating ways. From their farm system to their 2015 lineup, the trade changes so much for them. Here are some of the subtle ramifications:
>>> The Nationals would still like to bring back Adam LaRoche, but they have apparently been pretty firm about their intention to not give him more than a two-year deal. With Span in the mix and the option to move Michael Morse a reality rather than a possibility, one unaffiliated agent said the Nationals picked up some leverage in their negotiations with LaRoche. No one could begrudge LaRoche for choosing a better offer and playing elsewhere. But if he comes back to the Nationals, it may have to be on their terms.
>>> Span’s contract is awfully team-friendly, especially in light of the five-year, $75.25 million deal B.J. Upton signed yesterday with the Braves. Span will make $11.25 million over the next two seasons, with a $9 million team option for 2015. The affordable deal should mean the Nationals have the financial flexibility to sign a big-time free agent starter.
>>> The free agent market is not the only option for the Nationals as they look to find a fifth starter to replace Edwin Jackson, and General Manager Mike Rizzo said as much. Now that they have Span, the Nationals could still re-sign LaRoche and then use Morse as part of a package to land their starter. The Rays, with quality eight starters, are one plausible fit, with James Shields a possible target.
>>> One more reason Span’s contract is so attractive: The Nationals still have flexibility to bring up top outfield prospect Brian Goodwin when he is ready. Span wouldn’t be blocking him by 2015, and if the Nationals want to pick Goodwin over Span sometime in 2014, Span’s attractive contract wouldn’t prevent the Nationals from trading him. We are getting way ahead ourselves with that scenario, but the point is that Span’s contract keeps all of the Nationals’ options open.
>>> The trade could alter Rizzo’s perception a bit. Some rival GMs have thought of Rizzo as too stingy on trades, that he asked for too much in return and valued his own players too much. Well, Alex Meyer is a real-deal prospect. The Nationals, without question, parted with a lot to land Span. It’s a good, win-now trade for the Nats, but it’s no Ramos-for-Capps heist.
“We understand the process,” Rizzo said. “To get a good, established player at Denard’s age, with the contract he has, you have to give up a quality player. We feel we have great depth in our minor league system. To give up an Alex Meyer for a Denard Span, it’s always a difficult decision to make, but one that we felt fit our time frame.”
>>> With Meyer shipping off to Minnesota, the Nationals lose the starter who was clearly their top pitching prospect. Last year’s Gio Gonzalez trade took a chunk out of the Nationals’ farm system, and losing Meyer is another blow. The Nationals are left without any impactful minor league starters who are close to the majors.
Their best prospect now becomes 2012 top pick Lucas Giolito, who has ungodly stuff but is 18 and just had Tommy John surgery. Sammy Solis, another one of their best minor league starters, is on the way back from Tommy John and hasn’t pitched above Class A. Nathan Karns was just added to the 40-man roster, but he, too, hasn’t pitched higher than Potomac. Matt Purke is on the 40-man roster, but shoulder issues held him to three starts at Class A Hagerstown this year.
It will help them that Christian Garcia is being turned from a reliever into a starter. But the upper levels of the Nationals’ system now seem pretty barren in terms of starters – that’s what happens when you trade away Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and Meyer in less than a year. That’s also how a contending team behaves.
>>> The Nationals chose Meyer with the 23rd overall pick in 2011, one of the two compensatory picks they received when Adam Dunn left in free agency. The other compensatory pick? Goodwin. And so the Nationals’ haul for letting Dunn walk is their current center fielder and the player projected to be their future center fielder.
>>> Meyer is a Scott Boras client and Span is represented by CAA, the same high-powered agency that represents Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Giolito and many other Nats players. If the trade went the other way, you would probably be hearing an awful lot about Boras. The players’ respective agencies haven’t been brought up much in this case. Just saying.
>>> In his second full season, at age 20, Bryce Harper may be hitting cleanup for the Nationals. The Nationals’ order will obviously depend on whether they sign LaRoche or not. If you use only players currently under contract – meaning Morse at first base – the Nationals’ lineup would probably look like this:
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF-LF
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Bryce Harper, LF-RF
5. Michael Morse, 1B
6. Ian Desmond, SS
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
8. Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki, C
Harper would fill the role LaRoche played this year in breaking up right-handed hitters Zimmerman and Morse. In this lineup, the Nationals would have a left-right split of L-R-R-L-R-R-S-R, which is pretty balanced. And it all starts, like so many other things about the Nationals’ now, with Span at the top.