Perhaps the most puzzling part of the Rays decision to trade Evan Longoria on Wednesday, was a certain part of the return.
The Rays acquired top prospect, Christian Arroyo, who will slot in with the Rays top 10 , making the team’s already stacked system even better. They also received two not-so-bad lottery ticket arms in the low minors.
However, in order to obtain those prospects and complete the deal, the Rays also had to take outfielder Denard Span and all of the salary that is owed to him in 2018, plus at least $4 million for a buyout in 2019. Not to mention the salary they’ll be sending to San Francisco in order to help pay Longoria through the 2022 season.
The Rays actually took on salary and did so in a way that doesn’t vastly improve the team.
Denard Span was a first round draft pick in the 2002 draft by the Minnesota Twins. Never one of the top prospects in baseball, he was a mainstay in the Twins top 30 for five years before breaking into the majors during the 2008 season. From 2008 to 2012 while with the Twins, Span enjoyed plenty of success and averaged over 3 fWAR per season.
He would be dealt to the Washington Nationals following the 2012 season, picked up where he left off in Minnesota, turning three solid seasons while with Washington before becoming a free agent following the 2015 season.
Span would sign a three year deal with the San Francisco Giants in January of 2016, which was significantly backloaded, paying him $3 million for 2016, and then $9 million in both 2017 and 2018, plus a $12 million option in 2019 with a $4 million team buyout. As well as a $6 million signing bonus that would be distributed over the first three years of the contract.
Heading into the 2018, Span is now the highest paid player on the Rays roster being slated to make $11 million this upcoming season.
That salary is obviously a bit much for the always budget conscientious Rays. Chances are good they are likely already trying to find another team willing to take Span and some his contract with him.
However, if the Rays aren’t able to find a suitor, Span will slot into left field for the Rays where having Kevin Kiermaier play beside him every day, will certaintly improve his disastrous defensive numbers from a year ago. His -27 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2017 were far and away the worst in major league baseball with Dexter Fowler being the next closest player with -18.
Span’s defense has been in a downward spiral since the 2012 season, in which he put up 19 DRS for the Twins. Since then the numbers have come in at 3, -2, -10, -7, and then the albatross of a year he had in 2017 with -27, all coming with Span playing center field. He hasn’t played a position besides center field since the 2009 season.
Despite the poor defensive numbers, Span still accrued 1.2 fWAR this past season, thanks to his solid contributions to the offensive side of things. Over the year, Span slashed .272/.329/.427 with 12 home runs. He struck out at the worst clip of his career since his sophomore season in 2009 and he walked less in 2017 than in any point of his career.
An aspect where he should seriously improve the Rays, is against right-handed pitching. This is an area in which the Rays have struggled recently. Span, over his career, has a 110 wRC+ against RHP and he put up a line of .284/.339/.465 with all 12 of his home runs coming against them in 2017.
Again, the Rays will be looking for anyone willing to take Span off their hands before the start of the season, but if they’re not able to find any takers, starting the season with Denard Span would not be the worst thing.