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Meet the New Mariners: Denard Span

His gray wolf beard is gone but its spirit lives on forever

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, our Mario Martín del Campo introduced us to Álex Colomé. Today, we focus on Denard Span, the man who joined El Caballo in the trade that brought the duo to Seattle in exchange for Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero.

Span, a 34-year-old outfielder who bats and throws left-handed, is in his 11th year of MLB service time. D-SPAN debuted with the Twins in 2008, six years after Minnesota drafted him with the 20th overall pick out of Tampa Catholic High School, where he hit a casual .490 as a senior. 2008-2014 were his best seasons as a pro. During that seven-year stretch, he put up .286/.352/.392 figures and accumulated 22.4 fWAR. The glory years also included an average of 20 stolen bases per year, culminating in a career-high 31 in 2014. Span’s big-league passport includes stamps from Minnesota, Washington, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and now Seattle.

In his career, he’s shared a clubhouse with Jim Thome (born in 1970), and Willy Adames (born in 1995). Along the way, Span’s list of teammates has included Greg Dobbs, Doug Fister, Eddie Guardado, Bryce Harper, Orlando Hudson, Philip Humber, Michael Morse, Jonathan Papelbon, Carl Pavano, Jake Peavy, Pablo Sandoval, Rafael Soriano, Jesus Sucre, and Dan Uggla. Twice he’s led his league in triples, once in 2009 with the Twins, and once in 2013 with the Nats when he led all of Major League Baseball in three-baggers.

Things fell off a bit for Span after 2014, a season in which he tied for the NL lead in hits and finished 19th in MVP voting. In the offseason following the 2014 campaign, he underwent two different surgeries. The first addressed a sports hernia while the second was for a “core abdominal-type injury” just weeks before Opening Day. His season was officially derailed when Span went under the knife in August for a season-ending operation on his hip, limiting him to just 61 games in 2015.

Nothing was the same after that. Span came through to play at least 129 games in each of the next two seasons with the Giants. He was the furthest thing from perfect, failing to top 1.5 fWAR in either of them, setting new worst behaviors each time. Understandably, three surgeries appear to have taken their toll on Span’s body. Since his string of bad injury luck, Span’s getting on base less and his speed has diminished. These are things I will try not to think about too much.

Denard Span

2008-14 .286 .352 .392 66 49 20 104
2015-18 .271 .340 .405 50 36 10 101
Note: The K, BB, and SB numbers are his yearly averages for the given time span

All of this says nothing of his defensive value, which also plummeted after 2014. At its zenith, Span’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) hit 19 in 2012. In 2017, a year spent patrolling the spacious AT&T Park outfield, Span posted a -27 DRS, meaning he was 27 runs worse than an average outfielder. I know, I know, defensive stats are weird, and never fully encapsulate the entire experience of playing the field. Let’s check in with my friend from college, a Giants fan who spent the last two years of his life watching Span chase down balls in the gap.

Luckily, the Mariners are fortunate enough to have Guillermo Heredia ten toes down in center field, pushing Span to the less taxing left field position. On days with Span in the lineup after Dee Gordon and Jean Segura return from their respective ailments, the M’s batting order will likely look something like this.

2B Gordon

SS Segura

RF Haniger

DH Cruz

3B Seager

1B Healy

CF Heredia

C Zunino

LF Span

I’m more than okay with that, especially if Span can combine his little bit of bat-swinging ability with the swag my friend alluded to. Also, for what it’s worth, Denard Span is by all accounts a fantastic clubhouse guy. Jerry Dipoto raved about him on his latest episode of The Wheelhouse, also revealing that Dee Gordon and Span have an existing relationship that should make for an excellent series of buddy cop movies. He’s also played in 14 playoff games and a Game 163 that I urge you not to forget about.

My two cents: Colomé will be the more useful asset from this trade, locking down high-leverage situations in the bullpen while Span likely slots into the bottom of the order. If he slumps, or shows an inability to play adequate defense, there’s always Ben Gamel, who hopefully has a fire lit under him after watching the team grab an older, same-handed player to take over his position.

Fun Facts about Denard Span:

  • His full name is Keiunta Denard Span.
  • Span’s career walk rate is 8.7%. This year, it’s 16.2%.
  • As Dipoto also touches on in the podcast, Willie Mays referred to Span as “Bernard” during their interactions at Giants’ Spring Training. Denard accepted his new identity.
  • This was his batting stance at one point in time.

Welcome to Seattle, Denard.