I love Denard Span. I think he's one of the most underrated players in baseball, and one that was under team control for three more years at insanely low prices, even considering the first two would have been arbitration years ($4.75 million for 2013, $6.5 for 2014, and a no-brainer team option for $9 in 2015).
I can't imagine why any team would want to trade Span, without being blown away. The Twins will not compete in 2013, and would not have competed with Span…but if there's any team with a front office that doesn't think they'll compete three seasons from now, that team needs a new front office. The team's presumptive replacement, Ben Revere, is passable but a huge downgrade, and I don't even know who might fill Revere's vacated corner slot. The deal cripples the formerly-averageish lineup in the short term, and they'll need one of their prospects (most likely Aaron Hicks or Oswaldo Arcia) to make it in a big way to keep it from hurting the lineup in the long term. I just can't track with any line of thinking that makes trading Span for less than most of some team's farm system makes any sense.
For all that, when they finally did trade him yesterday for Nationals pitching prospect Alex Meyer — a live arm yet to appear above high-A who may ultimately profile as a reliever — I was okay with it. And it had nothing to do with Terry Ryan's justification (from the same article, "[w]e have some depth in the outfield here, so it just made sense," which isn't a lie in the sense that all three-dimensional objects have some depth).
It's just that, frankly, I was expecting a lot worse.
Span was gone this offseason. That much was clear. There had been rumors that he was on his way out (mostly to the Nationals, interestingly enough) for a year and a half. I'll never understand why it happened, but there was never any real question that it was going to happen.
As our friend Aaron Gleeman noted on Twitter, it's "[t]ough to trade a good, underrated, inexpensive 28-year-old." No doubt it is. Consider, though, that the last time the Twins traded a good, underrated, inexpensive 28-year-old — also to the mid-Atlantic, as it turns out — his name was J.J. Hardy and he brought back two extremely mediocre minor-league relievers, then immediately hit 30 homers for the Orioles. It was a very similar situation, in that the Twins didn't seem to have any understanding of what they had, and were anxious (more anxious, in that case, to be sure) to rid themselves of what should have been an extremely valuable asset. One could also look at the Twins' last trade to the Nationals, which got them extremely mediocre big-league reliever Matt Capps in exchange for Wilson Ramos, already a star if he can return from his 2012 injury.
It's a rough predicament for a fan to be in, really. The team is in a spot from which the only realistic way out is making trades, lots of them, and yet based on recent history, a fan can be excused for cowering in fear at the very mention of the word "trade."
So analysts might wonder why the Twins didn't get more, might even call it a steal for the Nationals. Me, I'm just relieved that they didn't get less.
Meyer might be a reliever. Hell, at this point, Meyer might never pitch in the majors. But that's the way it is with prospects, all of them, especially pitchers. He's a first-round pick from just a year and a half ago who might also develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter, a kind of potential the Twins' system was sorely lacking.
Span was worth more than this (probably much more). Other teams might have done better for him than this. The Twins — for all the other strengths this front office has, and I do believe there are many — were never going to do any better, and could have done a lot worse.
The key now: don't do a thing that looks like a move to compete in 2013. Don't bring Liriano back. For God's sake, don't go out and add three starting pitchers. This was very likely a bad team at this time yesterday, and it's unquestionably a very bad one now. Embrace it. Think about dumping Willingham, Morneau, and anything else that won't be around in 2015. Span was probably the best value on the team, and arguably its second- or third-best player; you can't dump him for an asset who won't be useful for two years and then go on as though you've got a chance.
I'll miss Span a lot. But as long as this is the first step in a full-on rebuild, me and my extremely low trade-value standards can live with this one.