During the 2014-2015 offseason, the Giants had a hole in left field. Mike Morse was not returning, Travis Ishikawa was no one’s idea of a long-term solution, and the team didn’t trust Gregor Blanco to man the position again as a regular. I proposed in an article (I’d link, but the web site it was posted on is unfortunately down for the time being) that the Giants should focus their attention on acquiring a center fielder, and shift the oft-injured Angel Pagan to left field. I argued that a move to left would help keep Pagan’s achy back in one piece and if the team was going to spend money or trade farm talent, why not pick up a better player at a premium position?
Shockingly, the Giants didn’t follow my advice. They kept Pagan in center and signed Nori Aoki to man left, which…well, fair enough. Aoki was awesome. Frankly, I’m sad he was only a Giant for one year. He was such an awesomely weird player, looking at times like he had never put on a glove or held a bat but still managing to be a very valuable player. But that’s a love-in for another day…
Pagan stayed mostly healthy but he didn’t hit a lick until September. This offseason the Giants decided to listen to my sage words and signed a better center fielder as a free agent, thus moving Pagan over to left field. So I was right, just a year premature. What was it Branch Rickey said about being early? Does that apply here?
The third major free agent signing by the Giants was, of course, Denard Span. A speedy runner and extreme contact hitter, Span will take over not only as the new center fielder but also as the Giants’ leadoff hitter. Span was signed to a very reasonable three year, $31 million contract. Perhaps it’s a lot of faith to place in a player who missed more than half of last season with injuries, but in a world where Nick Markakis gets four years and $44 million…
Span fits the mold of what I call the “new Moneyball” players. In a league top-heavy with players who swing big and miss a lot, Span goes against the grain by never striking out. He relies on a high-contact approach and his legs to pump up his batting average and set the table for his teammates. The Royals succeeded with a lineup full of these guys the past two years, while most other teams were filling their lineups with walks and taters guys. Span will fight in nicely with Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Buster Posey in a Giants lineup balanced nicely with hitters who avoid whiffs at a high rate, so it’s not hard to see why they went after him (Span struck out in only 9.7% of his at-bats the past two seasons; the league average is closer to 20%).
Since he puts the ball in play all the time, Span is naturally a bit of a slave to BABIP. In the years where it’s been below .300, he hasn’t been very good. When it’s .330 or above, like in 2014, he’s awesome. With the ability to steal 30 bags a year, he’s extremely valuable to the Giants if he can maintain his .350 career OBP for the course of this deal.
Denard Span has all the indicators of your typical Giants player of recent vintage. He puts the ball in play, he’s fast, he plays good defense, he has a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. His recent injury problems are a worry and he doesn’t have any power (so of course he hit a three-run bomb on Opening Day), but if he stays healthy his strengths make him an asset to a playoff team, the star on the Christmas tree of the Giants’ winter spending spree. As the final piece of a championship-caliber puzzle, he does quite nicely.
This is a signing that I probably would have had nothing but invective for circa 2007. In these post-“Jack Cust-is-life-” times, though, I’m a fan. A three year deal for a good outfielder is a pretty small price to pay to get Angel Pagan out of center field and away from the top of the lineup.
As an A’s fan O can assure you that we NEVER thought, “Jack Cust is life.” 🙂