The Nationals’ trade with the Twins for Denard Span looked like a win for the Nationals when it happened last Thursday. They acquired an in-his-prime center fielder with excellent range and on-base skills, and he came with a contract that will pay him only $11.25 million over the next two years, with the option to pay him $9 million more in 2015. They had to part with Alex Meyer, their top pitching prospect, but Span was the right fit at the right time. “It fit perfectly for us with the player we acquired,” Rizzo said.

Five days later, the perception of the trade has changed. It looks much better.

Keith Srakocic/AP

At the winter meetings, the cost to acquire center fielders has surged. According to reports, Angel Pagan signed with the Giants for $40 million over four years, and Shane Victorino agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal. If the Nationals had waded into free agency for a center fielder, they would need to change the calculus of their payroll.

If the Twins still had Span, and both Pagan and Victorino had come off the center field market at those prices, would the Twins still accept only Meyer in return for Span? There is no way to know. Meyer was a big piece to give up. But clearly Span would be a highly valuable trade chip to be holding right now.

The idea of “beating the winter meetings” with trades is something many general managers adhere to. They want to finish deals before free agents start signing with new teams and create a scarcity at the position they are trying to fill. The effect seemed to work in the Nationals’ favor with the Span trade, but that was not part of any plan by Mike Rizzo.

“I have no need to look back on it,” Rizzo said. “We did the deal when we did it, and we liked it because we saw an opportunity there. We didn’t really worry about the other candidates. We wanted this guy at this time.”