On the eve of the Winter Meetings on Monday, the San Digo Padres still have quite a bit of work to do. Having already subtracted with trades of Craig Kimbrel, Joaquin Benoit and Yonder Alonso, it now appears that it is time for the Padres to start adding new pieces and filling positions of need.
One of the biggest areas of need this offseason is in the outfield. With the likely move of Wil Myers to first base full time and the departure of Justin Upton, the Padres have some holes that need to be filled in the outfield. The Padres do have Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton and Travis Jankowski at the big league level, as well as Alex Dickerson, Rymer Liriano and Hunter Renfroe at the minor league level, but the Padres could use some more outfield depth.
This is where a few free agents come in. The best, and really cheapest, fit of all the free agent outfielders is Denard Span. The Padres seem to be unwilling or unable to shell out the big money it would take to re-sign Justin Upton, or to bring in the likes of Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward, or even Dexter Fowler. Span is coming off a down season, that was filled with quite a few injuries, which should likely drive down his price significantly enough for the Padres to be interested.
With the acquisition of Manuel Margot in the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox, the Padres likely found their long term center fielder of the future, if Travis Jankowski is not up to the task. Jankowski may get some significant playing time in 2016, depending on what other moves the Padres make this offseason, but either way Margot is waiting in the wings to take over that job, perhaps as early as 2017.
Given the young options the Padres do have, it makes a lot of sense to get a short term, veteran option to fill that hole while the team waits for Margot to be ready. Span is that perfect fit. Span will be 32 in February and has had quite a productive career overall. Span had arguably the worst year of his career, or at least the worst of the last five years. Despite only playing in 61 games because of various injuries, Span still finished with a 1.4 WAR, proving he was still both an offensive threat and a speed threat despite increasing age and declining defensive performance.
Now the poor defensive performance, -4.9 UZR in just 61 games last season, may scare some Padre fans away, but Span has still proven himself to be an offensive threat, which is just what the Padres need. More than anything else, the Padres need a strong leadoff threat, someone who can get on base consistently and provide the offense a spark. Span fits that mold perfectly. In his limited playing time last season, Span hit just over .300 and also had an on base percentage of over .360. Span has a good eye at the plate, gets on base frequently, and still has some good speed (11 stolen bases last season in limited time) for an aging player.
Obviously the biggest question mark with Span is his injury history and his declining defense. The Padres can hide Span’s defense a little bit if they choose to use him in left or spell him in center with Upton and Jankowski. This also would help the team keep Span healthy, as he does not need to play every game, or even every inning of every game. Both Upton and Jankowski can be used to spell Span and keep him healthy over the long haul.
A one or two year deal for the Padres and Denard Span would make a lot of sense. This would give the Padres a good lead off hitter in the short term while they wait for Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot to be fully ready over the next few seasons and it would allow Denard Span to rebuild his own value following an awful year. Span clearly has to prove he is healthy before any sort of deal is made, but this is a risk the Padres should be willing to take. A high risk, potentially high reward player on a team friendly deal is just the kind of move A.J. Preller needs to make this offseason.