Denard Span was included in the Evan Longoria trade to offset the 2018 luxury tax total for the San Francisco Giants. The 34 year old Span was born in Tampa, Florida and graduated from Tampa Catholic High School before being selected with the 20th overall pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2002.
Span has been a very good player in the past. He’s put up 3.0 fWAR or more five times, but the last time came in 2014. He still has a productive bat, Span was hitting .275/.337/.408 and putting up a 102 wRC+ over 1,454 plate appearances the last three years. In particular, his left handed bat has been much more productive against right handed pitchers where he’s hit .296/.355/.454 and put up a 119 wRC+ in 1,064 plate appearances.
You might that’s the key ingredient for the longside of a platoon, but the Rays are bad enough against Southpaws that Span may hit on a regular basis.
Span’s addition fits with the Rays focus of adding some contact to the roster, as he has an 11.7% strikeout rate for his career, and he keeps the ball on the ground with a career 51.7% groundball rate. Since he doesn’t hit for much power, he has a 56 wRC+ on fly balls.
Line drives to the gap will bring the bulk of the damage he’s able to do. His lack of strikeouts while posting a solid 8.5% walk rate has made him a productive bat, as has his speed.
Span’s 27.9 feet per second sprint speed he posted in 2018 is still above league average (27.0 ft/s), and his instincts should allow him to be a solid defender in left field.
Span’s offense hasn’t really fallen, but his defensive value has. From 2010-2013 Span put up +27 DRS and +33.0 UZR over 4,309 innings in center field. Last season Span put up the a league worst -27 DRS in CF. By UZR he put up a -7.5 UZR (-8.7 UZR/150). This continues his trend of being a below average defensive centerfielder since 2014, coincidentally when he stopped being a 3-win player.
Fortunately for the Rays they have Kevin Kiermaier that should see every inning he can handle in center. Span will move over to left field most days, even though he hasn’t played an inning outside of centerfield since 2009.
If the adjustment doesn’t work out and Span isn’t one of the best three defensive outfielders on the roster, he could see extended time at designated hitter similar in style to what Johnny Damon provided in 2011.
The best asset Span has brought with him to Rays camp this off-season, though, has been leadership, filling a vacuum left by Evan Longoria et al. It’s fair to say Span could be a veteran presence in the mold of Johnny Damon during the magical 2011 season.
The projections expect a slightly below average batter. Steamer has Span putting up a .268/.328/.403 line and 98 wRC+. ZiPS projects Span for a .266/.324/.392 line and 94 wRC+.
Span’s contact oriented OBP bat should help the offense have plenty of opportunities against right handed pitchers. The Rays are looking to have a right handed outfielder on the bench which should help limit Span’s flaws at the plate, but even if we see him every day, Span will likely be a net positive on this Rays roster, and that’s a feat in and of itself.