The Minnesota Twins locked up a talented 26-year-old today, but not the one that fans have been expecting.
While the club still hasn’t finalized a deal with Joe Mauer, they have ensured consistency in the outfield for the foreseeable future.
Joe Christensen of The Star Tribune tweeted today that the Twins and center fielder Denard Span have agreed to a five-year, $16.5 million contract.
The contract buys out the rest of Span’s team controlled seasons, but no free agent years. There is, however, a $9 million club option for a sixth year.
According to Kelsie Smith of The Pioneer Press, Span will earn $750,000 in 2010, $1 million in 2011, $3 million in 2012, $4.75 million in 2013, and $6.5 million in 2014. The club can also reportedly buy out Span’s $9 million option for 2015 for $500,000.
Span has been a revelation in the Minnesota lineup since joining the club as a replacement for an injured Michael Cuddyer in 2008.
In 2009, Span hit .311/.392/.415 with eight home runs, ten triples, 68 RBI, and 23 stolen bases as Minnesota’s primary leadoff hitter.
When he was selected in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft it was obvious the club envisioned him as the eventually successor to Torii Hunter in center field.
Unfortunately, Span’s success in the minor leagues wasn’t immediate. He posted solid—but not spectacular—numbers for five years between rookie ball and Triple A.
In fact, from 2003 to 2007, Span had posted a batting line of .281/.352/.341 while totally just seven home runs and never stealing more than 25 bases in a single season.
After the 2007 season, however, Span underwent LASIK eye surgery and immediately noticed a difference. Most notably that he felt he was able to tell which pitches not to chase.
In addition to increased vision heading into the 2008 campaign, Span also had increased motivation.
Torii Hunter, the man he’d be drafted to replace, had departed via free agency and the job—in theory—should have been Span’s lose.
The front office, however, felt otherwise.
The dynamic—if not erratic—Carlos Gomez had been acquired as the key component of the Johan Santana trade with the New York Mets. Gomez was a superior defender to Span and much faster.
He did, however, have one small weakness; a complete and utter inability to get on-base.
His ability to reach base notwithstanding, the Twins—who otherwise had nothing at the big league level to show for the Santana trade—tossed Gomez into the mix for the starting center field job, despite his obvious need for more time in the minors.
Span showed up to Spring Training claiming he was ready to “battle” and had no intentions of being a forgotten outfielder. He lived up to his hype that spring and completely outplayed Gomez.
That fact made it all that much harder on Span when the club chose Gomez to be the club’s starting center fielder and sent Span back to Triple A.
Span responded by tearing the cover off the ball in Triple A. He posted an eye-popping .340/.434/.481 batting line with fifteen stolen bases in just 40 games.
Denard Span was proving the Twins had made the wrong choice.
When Cuddyer went down with an injury and Span was called up he continued doing his best to prove the doubters wrong.
He went on to hit .294/.387/.432 with six home runs, seven triples, 47 RBI, and eighteen stolen bases in 93 games whilst playing all over the outfield.
Span finished sixth in the rookie of the year voting and by season’s end had established himself as a cornerstone of the Twins outfield and one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in the big leagues.
The five-year pact proves that the club is now well-aware of what they have in Denard Span. The offseason trade of Gomez didn’t hurt matters either.
Span’s defensive range and arm may not matchup to Gomez’s and, in all actuality, may be better suited for left field than center fielder, but he figures to hold down the position for the foreseeable future.
In all likelihood, Span will be a left fielder by the end of the deal with Aaron Hicks or Ben Revere taking his role in center field, but for the time being the job is all his.
Just the way it was meant to be.