MINNEAPOLIS — Denard Span’s heart sunk a bit when he saw an incoming call from a Minneapolis number Thursday afternoon. When he heard Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan’s voice on the other end, he knew what was going on.
The subject of trade rumors for two years, Span is now officially on his way out of Minnesota.
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The Twins traded Span to the Washington Nationals on Thursday for 22-year-old right-handed pitching prospect Alex Meyer. After spending a decade in Minnesota’s organization, Span will be moving on.
“My initial reaction: I was sad,” Span said. “It seemed like everything that I’ve been through over the last 10 years kind of flashed before my eyes.”
Span, 28, made his major league debut with Minnesota in 2008 and has been a mainstay in the Twins’ outfield ever since. His 2011 season was cut short because of a concussion, but he played 128 games in 2012 and batted .283 with a .342 on-base percentage as Minnesota’s leadoff hitter.
Part of what made Span such a valuable trade chip was not only his production on the field but also his team-friendly contract. Span is due $4.75 million next season and $6.5 million in 2014. There is a $9 million club option for 2015, with a $500,000 buyout.
“You always have mixed emotions when something like this happens,” Ryan said. “Denard’s been a good player and a good representative of this organization and this community for a lot of years.”
Just hours after the trade was announced, Span was still in shock after being dealt for the first time in his young career. He now leaves behind the only major league organization he’s known.
“I can’t even really put into words my emotions, my feelings,” he said. “I grew up in the Minnesota Twins organization. They will always be a part of me. The teaching that they gave me, the way I played the game, it will always be instilled in me to do it the Minnesota Twins way. I don’t care where I go, where my career takes me. I’ll always have that.”
One caveat of the trade for Span is that he leaves a Twins organization that has suffered back-to-back 90-loss seasons and now will play for a young Washington team that finished 98-64 last season and won the National League East title. He’ll join the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg — two of the Nationals’ top picks in recent years — on a Washington team looking to make it back to the playoffs.
“I’m definitely looking forward to playing on a contending team and playing on a team that has a lot of great players,” Span said. “I talked to some of their players and their GM, and there’s no question they’ve been trying to trade for me the last two years. I’m definitely looking forward to that and opening up another chapter in my life.”
A first-round pick of the Nationals in 2011, Meyer reached High-A Potomac last season. Between two different minor league levels, the 6-foot-9 Meyer started 25 games and was 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 129 innings.
“We’re looking for starting pitching, and this guy’s got all the attributes,” Ryan said. “He’s big, he’s got stuff, he’s got four pitches, he’s got control and command of it enough. He can strike people out. He’s one of the better minor league pitchers in the game, we think. Now it’s just a matter of timing and what kind of schedule he’ll be on.”
Meyer is a hard-throwing right-hander. He said his fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, and his out pitch is a knuckle curve. He also throws a circle change, along with both a two-seam and four-seam fastball.
Like Span, Meyer was surprised to find out he had been traded.
“I was kind of caught off guard,” Meyer said. “When I finally got off the phone and sat back and looked at it, I’m really excited. I had a blast playing for the Nationals this last year. They had some great players over there, but I’m really excited to be with the Twins and help the organization move forward.”
Ryan noted that acquiring pitching — particularly starting pitching — still will be a top priority for the Twins this offseason. While Meyer likely won’t pitch in the majors for a few years, he gives Minnesota some pitching depth in the minor league system.
“These guys pretty much dictate what kind of schedule or how rapid they move through the ranks,” Ryan said. “If he backs it up all of a sudden, you’d think he’d be knocking on the door. As people remind me, once that happens, it’s very difficult to acquire these types of guys. . . . Sometimes you’ve got to get them when they’re in the early stages of their pro career or you aren’t going to get them, period.”