“My emotions are all over the place,” Span said. “Definitely exciting, man. I’m very excited to be coming to Washington. A year and a half ago, when I first heard the rumors, I don’t think I was ready for it then. Now I’m definitely ready for it.”
Since the franchise migrated from Montreal in 2005, the Nationals have sent 32 men to play center field. But only now, in a move that will trickle down their roster, do the Nationals have their center fielder. The position the Nationals couldn’t solve now belongs to Span.
“I think he’s going to bring a dimension to the club that we haven’t had before,” Rizzo said. “His skill set is something we were looking for, something we’ve been looking for, for a couple years. He’s a front-line defensive center fielder. He’s a consummate leadoff-type of hitter.”
With Span in center field, Bryce Harper will move to a corner outfield spot full time. Rizzo said he wanted to remove the “physical” and “mental” strain of playing center from Harper. Rizzo, somewhat surprisingly, said the Nationals would sort out which outfielder plays which corner in the spring between Harper and right fielder Jayson Werth.
The Nationals can now move on to answering the next questions of their offseason. To set their lineup, they have two options: re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche and trade left fielder Michael Morse, or keep Morse and let LaRoche, a key cog of the Nationals’ 98-win season, sign elsewhere.
“It gives us some options in dealing with our roster,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo said the Nationals have continued discussing a contract with LaRoche, who this year hit 33 home runs and won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award. LaRoche wants to return to Washington, but the Nationals have not yet offered LaRoche more than a two-year contract. LaRoche could expect a longer deal after his excellent 2012 season.
“I think this is a hell of a move, because it gives us some protection if Adam leaves,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I’ll still have some left-handed presence in the lineup.”
Span will make $11.25 million combined over the next two seasons, with a $9 million team option for 2015. The contract seems friendly compared with the five-year, $75 million deal the Atlanta Braves committed to for B.J. Upton. Span’s contract will prevent him from blocking Brian Goodwin, the Nationals’ top outfield prospect, if and when he is ready for the majors.