CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Saturday morning, Denard Span received a congratulatory phone call from Torii Hunter. Saturday afternoon, he left a spring training game in Clearwater and Ben Revere replaced him, continuing the Twins' succession of dynamic, personable, mutually-supportive center fielders.
"When I leave a game, I tell Ben, 'Take it easy on me,''' Span said. "Then I look in the paper the next day and he had two hits again. But I like it.''
Span doesn't have to worry about Revere breathing down his neck anymore. Saturday morning, Span signed a five-year contract worth $16.5 million, with an option for the 2015 season.
Revere probably will start the season at Class AA New Britain, and could be in the majors by next year.
Kirby Puckett tutored Hunter, who tutored Span, who tutors Revere, who could be the first center field prospect in that lineage to be forced to find a new position. "We don't worry about having too many good players,'' Twins General Manager Bill Smith said. "If Ben's ready, we'll find a place for him.''
The signing of Span is an indication of how much the Twins organization has changed, in many ways:
• The front office aggressively pursues long-term contracts with young players whom Smith said "meet certain criteria,'' including displaying the kind of work ethic and personality that makes them trustworthy. Span, one of the most polished players and personalities in the clubhouse, easily qualified.
• The franchise is willing to spend -- and risk -- big money to keep its best players. In the past three offseasons, the Twins have signed Nick Blackburn, Span, Jason Kubel, Scott Baker, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan and even Brendan Harris and Nick Punto to multi-year contracts.
The only key player whose contract status is an issue this spring is catcher Joe Mauer, whose camp has turned down offers believed to be worth $20 million to $21 million a year.
• Rob Antony, the Twins' assistant general manager, has become a key figure in the organization, entrusted with high-level contracts and earning praise from players and his bosses for conducting productive and amicable negotiations.
What hasn't changed is this: The Twins have a center fielder who is quite easy to like, and another like him moving through the minors.
Hunter and Span made slow progress through the system. Revere is ahead of their pace. The Twins took him with the 28th pick of the 2007 draft, and he already has been named their minor league player of the year twice.
Span's contract means that Revere could make his major league debut as a corner outfielder -- or Span eventually could shift out of Revere's way.
"Denard's a heckuva player,'' Revere said. "He's going to be here for a long time, playing center field for the Minnesota Twins. He's like a brother to me.
"Hopefully, I can play next to him. I look up to him so much. So many guys in this organization do. Denard brought me in when I first got drafted, just like I did for Aaron Hicks.''
Hicks, the Twins' first-round pick in 2008, is the center fielder in line behind Revere.
These are heady days to be a Twins fan. They're about to open a beautiful outdoor stadium. Until Nathan hurt his elbow, they looked capable of fielding perhaps the most complete roster they've ever had on Opening Day.
Their front office aggressively spends money to lock up their best young players, and has made a succession of intelligent deals to acquire players since the middle of last summer.
The signing of Span is a logical baseball move. It also is symbolic of the organization's grand ambitions.
The Twins braintrust could have hoped Revere would develop into a cheaper alternative to Span. Instead, Smith and Antony set up Span to play center field in Target Field for the next five or six years.
Anyone accusing the Twins of cheapness these days is living in the past.
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org