It is no secret to even a casual Orioles observer that the team struggled to find a consistent contributor at either of the Orioles corner outfield spots in 2015. They eventually acquired Gerardo Parra at the July 31st trading deadline, but he could not keep his production up from the first few months in Milwaukee and the wheel kept on turning. That leads the Orioles to now, the 2015 free agent market where there are outfielders aplenty, but which one--if any--will the Orioles choose and of those they chose which one can they even afford.
The likes of Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes are likely too highly priced for the Orioles. They could possibly afford the price for one of them, but with the other areas of need, blowing the off season budget on a corner outfielder may not be wise. Then there are players such as Dexter Fowler and Colby Rasmus who make some sense for the Orioles, but have a qualifying offer attached. The Orioles weakened farm system needs a jolt, and giving away a draft pick for Colby Rasmus turns my stomach. That really leaves the likes of Gerardo Parra, Austin Jackson, or Denard Span. Span interests me the most, even though he is the oldest, his particular set of skills matches a lot of what the Orioles need to add this off season.
Span most recently played center field for the Nationals. He will be 32 years old by the time the 2016 season rolls around. He hit .301/.365/.431 in 61 games last season. He bats and throws left handed. He has played eight seasons in the major leagues, three with the Nationals and five with the Twins. Of his 943 career games he has played center field in 809 of them with right field being the runner up at 124 games. He missed 101 games in 2015 due to separate issues with his back, hip, and abdomen.
When Span plays, he hits. Over the last three seasons he has posted a wRC+ of 96, 117, and 120. On top of that, he has posted fWAR numbers of 3.4, 4.0, and 1.4 (in a severely shortened season) in those same years. He also has a career 7.9 percent walk rate which would have been the third highest last season for an Orioles regular. Alongside of that he has only struck out 11.0 percent of the time in his career and has been under 10 percent the past two seasons, which would have been the lowest by far for an Orioles regular. Not to mention that in 2014 he stole 31 bases while only being caught seven times.
He would bring patience, contact ability, and base running skills to an Orioles lineup that severely lacks all three. Also, at the plate, Span has shown no particular predilections towards hitting right handed pitching or left handed pitching in his career. Buck Showalter could have his everyday lead off hitter allowing Machado to slide down to number two and giving him more opportunities to bring runners home.
And all of that is only at the plate. In the field Span brings experience in center field and right field. He could easily slot into right field for the Orioles and provide above average defense. His advanced fielding numbers have slipped in center field over the past two years, possibly the signs of losing a step, but theoretically a move to right should be easy and allow his glove to play up. Furthermore, his experience in center field gives Buck Showalter a competent backup to Adam Jones who--as everyone saw this year--is going to need more and more rest as he ages.
Span would give the Orioles a solid, dependable bat at the top of the order and a good glove in the outfield. Not to mention that he may not cost all that much money to sign. The Fangraphs crowd sourcing project predicted three years at $36 million total and the MLB Trade Rumors staff predicted the same three years expect for a total of $39 million for the outfielder which should be within the Orioles budget and allow them to add more pieces. If healthy, he can play everyday and add a dimension to the lineup that the Orioles have been sorely lacking the last couple of seasons.
Well, there is one big con to Span, he is 32 years old and coming off an injury plagued season. The recency effect is strong when the most recent image is of a 32-year-old baseball player unable to stay on the field because of lingering issues with his back, neck, and abdomen. Committing to even three years for a player like that can be dangerous. While $12-$13 million a year is not all that much in free agent dollars, it could hamper what the Orioles would be able to do down the line. So while anyone can write "if healthy...", with a player like Span that "if" lingers heavy.
Denard Span is not a perfect player. If he was he would be going for a lot more money than the Orioles could afford. The injury issues are certainly concerning, but his abilities at the plate and in the field would give the Orioles something they very much need, at a cost they can afford, and without having to surrender any draft picks.