In trading Span for pitching prospect, Twins bank on the future

The Twins see Alex Meyer as a potential staff ace, but it cost them center fielder Denard Span.

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Alex Meyer delivers during the seventh inning of the MLB All-Star Futures game in July.

Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

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The Twins need to build a starting rotation for 2013, but their first big move of the offseason appears to be a solution aimed at 2015.

Righthander Alex Meyer, listed at 6-9 with a fastball in the mid-90s, is headed to the Twins from Washington in exchange for center fielder Denard Span. Meyer has the potential to be a true staff ace, something the Twins have not had since Johan Santana.

But Meyer, 22, pitched in Class A last season and might need at least two years before he can help the major league staff. The Twins need that ace now.

So have the Twins punted on 2013? Are they building for the future?

"No," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "We are trying to be competitive."

The Twins coveted a front-line starter, but those are hard to acquire in a trade and the club appears unwilling to bid on a top free-agent pitcher such as righthander Zack Greinke. So they went after Meyer, a first-round pick in 2011 out of the University of Kentucky, who was 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA last season in stops between Class A Hagerstown and Class A Potomac.

"This guy, even though he's been in pro ball a short time, has first-round status," Ryan said. "He's out of the University of Kentucky, highly touted. These guys are hard to get, and if you are going to get them, it's going to be in the low to mid-minors. Once they get up to Double A or Triple A, they are almost impossible to get."

The Twins maintain they can put a winning team on the field in 2013 and will head to next week's winter meetings in Nashville determined to put together a solid rotation. A source confirmed that the club will meet with the agents for righthander Brandon McCarthy while in Nashville. The Twins also have been linked to righthander Brett Myers and are considering bringing back lefthander Francisco Liriano.

"That's what we have been working on and will continue to work on," Ryan said. "Obviously, we have issues here with the rotation, and that is going to be our objective as we approach Nashville and beyond. We still have a lot of work to be done."

Meyer certainly is an intriguing prospect. In addition to a blazing fastball, he throws what's considered to be an above-average slider, a changeup and a curveball.

It cost the Twins a solid starter in Span, who batted .284 in parts of five seasons in Minnesota, including .283 last season with four homers and 41 RBI. With another center fielder in Ben Revere on the roster, the Twins could afford to part with him.

"When you draft a kid from high school and you bring him in as a teenager and you see them mature as players and people and become a member of the community and the organization for a decade, you always have feelings and mixed emotions when they depart," Ryan said. "Denard has always been a good man for this team and this organization. He has been a part of some pretty darn good teams here."

Ryan acknowledged that, with Revere moving to center field from right, at-bats are now available for Chris Parmelee -- but he'll have to earn them.

Span received a call from Ryan around 3 p.m. at his home in Tampa, Fla., taking the news with mixed emotions. He's going to a team that has a chance to play in the World Series. He'll play with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and many other talented players. And after being part of trade discussions between the Twins and Washington for nearly two years, he's finally a member of the Nationals.

But he said he's going to miss the Twins, the organization that drafted and developed him, the fans and the city.

"It's like the last 10 years with the organization have flown by," said Span, who was drafted by the Twins in the first round in 2002.

The Twins and the Nationals first talked in 2011 about a deal involving Span but didn't pull the trigger. But knowing they matched up well as trade partners, the Twins kept scouting the Nationals farm system and were well-prepared when talks rekindled about a month ago.

Washington will put Span in center and at the top of its batting order. Harper will move from center field to left.

"His skill set is something that we were looking for, we've been looking for a couple years," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said about Span when he spoke with Washington media. "We're talking about a true defensive ball hawk, center field type of guy with great range. Sabermetrically and with the scout's eye, he's a front-line defensive center fielder. He's the consummate leadoff type of hitter. He appeals greatly to us for his skill set as an offensive player."

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