Span agrees to three-year deal with Giants

January 7th, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ultimately, it'll matter more to the Giants whether Denard Span plays than where.

Hoping that they obtained the player who performed dynamically during much of his career before he endured an injury-ravaged 2015 season, the Giants agreed Thursday with Span on a three-year deal that includes a mutual option for a fourth year. A $4 million buyout reportedly accompanies the option year.

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Whether Span will fill San Francisco's left-field vacancy or unseat incumbent center fielder Angel Pagan, who then would move to left, is an issue that likely will be discussed at an AT&T Park news conference Friday. It's a delicate subject, since Pagan could be sensitive to switching positions. Their remarkably similar profiles as players suggest that they could be used interchangeably, if manager Bruce Bochy so chooses.

Span, who turns 32 on Feb. 27, hasn't played left field since he started 45 games there in 2009 with Minnesota. Span has made 778 of his 923 Major League starts in center, which he has played exclusively since 2010. Pagan, who's entering the final year of a four-year contract, hasn't played left field since 2010, when he started 20 games there for the Mets. Of Pagan's 857 career starts, 723 have come in center.

Span, who has almost exclusively batted leadoff during eight big league seasons, is expected to remain at the top of the order with the Giants. Bochy's Spring Training chores will include finding a suitable spot in the order for Pagan, 34, who has usually but not always batted first with the Giants. He hit third 56 times last year and had extended stints in the fifth and sixth spots during 2012.

Health is Span's biggest issue. He can galvanize a team when he's physically whole, as he reinforced in recent seasons with the Washington Nationals. He led the National League with 184 hits in 2014 to help Washington win the NL East. Last year, the Nats posted a .574 winning percentage (36-25) with Span, who hit .301, in the lineup. Their problem, obviously, was their 47-54 record in the other 101 games.

Span underwent season-ending hip surgery last Sept. 1, requiring four to six months of recovery. He's expected to begin the regular season on time, though his activity could remain somewhat limited when position players report to Spring Training on Feb. 22.

Before the surgery, Span missed seven weeks with back spasms and began the season on the disabled list following surgery to repair a right core muscle. That followed surgery in December 2014 to relieve a sports hernia.

Nevertheless, the Giants saw fit to fill their much-publicized need for an outfielder with Span, eschewing power-hitting free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. Span became San Francisco's third significant free-agent acquisition of the offseason, following right-handed pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto.

Giants general manager Bobby Evans deferred comment on Span until Friday, except to say, "I'm very pleased to strengthen our club with an excellent defender, a solid top-of-the-order hitter who has a great track record. When you invest in pitching as we did this winter, it's important to invest in the defense behind them. We think this make us stronger and deeper and better prepared to enter 2016 wth the strongest lneup and strongest defense possible."

Ex-Giant Kevin Frandsen, a Washington teammate of Span's in 2014, predicted that he'll fit in easily with San Francisco.

"It's another of those moves the Giants make that will strengthen them not only on the field but also in the clubhouse," Frandsen said.

Frandsen said that if Span is mobile, it won't matter what position he plays.

"He makes non-routine plays look routine," Frandsen said. "He has great speed and takes great routes, and that's hard to come by."

Minnesota's first-round selection (20th overall) in the 2002 Draft, Span owns a .287 career batting average with 37 homers and 152 stolen bases in 193 attempts. He led the American League with 10 triples in 2009 and paced the NL in the same category with 11 in 2013.

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

Span was afflicted by a multitude of injuries in 2015, making three trips to the disabled list and playing just 61 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. But the outfielder still posted a terrific .301 average with a .365 on-base percentage and 11 steals, mirroring the type of quality production he has provided throughout his career. Although his durability is now a question mark, a healthy Span can hit .300, swipe 25 bases and score 90 runs as the sparkplug atop a strong Giants lineup.

The signing of Span will return Gregor Blanco to his familiar fourth-outfielder role. But with Span coming off an injury-plagued campaign and Pagan having averaged 100 games played across the past three seasons, Blanco should exceed 350 plate appearances and help NL-only squads for the fifth straight year.