And it’s not just about getting him for the bargain price of $11.25 million for the next two years with a $9 million team option for 2015. That’s the perfect time frame to develop Brian Goodwin and other outfielders.
This is also about opening up options, really nice ones, for the rest of the winter. This is about marking a fairly clear path to a Nats team in 2013 that is at least comparable to last season’s Nats rather than, perhaps, not quite as good.
Now the Nats can go several ways. Two of them are the most obvious. They can, if they choose, offer free agent Adam LaRoche a third year on a deal in hopes of keeping their 100-RBI free agent. If he accepts, they may field one of the best defensive teams of the era with a swift outfield and rangy infield, plus two quality catchers. Their lineup would have excellent balance and five guys with speed. Of course, LaRoche might leave anyway.
Or, if the Nats fear a three-year jam-up at first base (and they seem to dread it), they can let LaRoche drift away, put Michael Morse at first base and keep Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina as exceptional extra outfielders. That leaves the Nats with a big heap of money to go after a free agent pitcher who will be a significant upgrade on departing Edwin Jackson.
There’s only an infinitesimal chance it’ll be Zack Greinke. The Nats barely consider it, assuming insane L.A. money will keep him an Angel or Dodger.
But look who else is available: Kyle Lohse (16 wins last season with two more in the playoffs), Dan Haren (average 14-11 the last eight years), Anibal Sanchez (Tigers starter in the World Series), Ryan Dempster (13-10 average record, 3.73 ERA the last five years) and others.
The Nats could add Span, keep LaRoche, trade Morse and replace Jackson with an equivalent starter. Or they could add Span, lose LaRoche, move Morse and add a starting pitcher who should be a level better than Jackson and give them a starting rotation that (okay, on paper) is pretty ridiculous.
Now we get to spend the winter waiting to see how, or if, this works out. Either way, or some other way if the opportunistic Mike Rizzo finds one, the Nats’ general manager has positioned himself to improve his team for next season. He hasn’t done it yet. But he has prepared the way.
And in the most likely scenario (LaRoche leaves), adding Span does not damage the Nats’ development plans for their best minor league hitters. Morse will be a free agent next winter. You want first base in 2014? Earn it.
Now, you don’t just count the days until spring training. You count down to the next puzzle piece. For example, the Nats non-tendered John Lannan on Friday and said, “So long.” It was the decent thing to do. Let him start elsewhere. They could have kept Lannan for one last year, even though they would have had to pay him at least $4 million even if he ended up in Class AAA again.