FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Denard Span would turn 29 in spring training of 2013. He had played three seasons of a five-year, $16.5 million contract that he had signed in March 2010. Span was due to make $4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014, with a $9 million club option (and $500,000 buyout) for 2015.
The numbers for 2013-14 were modest for a center fielder and excellent leadoff hitter. Yet, it wasn’t a shock when the Twins traded Span to Washington on Nov. 29, 2012 for 6-foot-9 pitching prospect Alex Meyer, the Nationals’ first-round selection in 2011.
The reason for the lack of surprise was that the Twins also had Ben Revere, who was 24 and had shown he could hit and cover center field, even if he never was going to be able to throw.
One week after the Span trade was announced, Ryan called manager Ron Gardenhire with this information: “I’m going to trade Revere to Philadelphia for two pitchers, Vance Worley and Trevor May.’’
Gardenhire response was, “Who is my center fielder?’’
Paul Molitor is in his first season as Gardenhire’s replacement. Molitor said that he and Ryan would have a meeting this weekend to get a better idea on what the final roster might look like.
Molitor would have been permitted to start that meeting by saying, “Who is my center fielder?’’
This would be more Molitor asking the general manager for his thoughts and not a decision. The fact is, since that week in the winter of 2012, Ryan has not provided his manager – first Gardenhire, now Molitor – with a favorable option as a regular center fielder.
All you’ve heard down here is that if a vote was taken among the coaches working in big-league spring training, the Opening Day center fielder would be Byron Buxton, 21, and coming off an injury-plagued season in which he had 124 at-bats.
There was never a possibility that this was going to happen, and Buxton was sent across the parking lot to the minor league complex with the first group of cuts.
The only hint of stability for Gardenhire in center field over the previous two seasons was when he started Danny Santana there for 62 games last season. His routes to the ball improved and he provided some hitting, but the Twins look at him as a shortstop – and that’s where Molitor put him from Day One in big-league camp.
The so-far horrendous result from the Span and Revere trades was emphasized on Friday when Meyer, now 25, was optioned to Class AAA Rochester. He started 27 games there last year, trying to develop a changeup to go with his fastball and slider, and now he’s been sent back to try to develop a changeup to go with his fastball and slider.
There was some thought this winter that the Twins would put Meyer in the bullpen, for some late-inning octane in front of closer Glen Perkins, and maybe get some changeup hints from new coaches Neil Allen and Eddie Guardado.
Nope. Ryan wants Meyer to continue with a starter’s workload, and that’s what happened.
One issue could be that unless the Twins can move Mike Pelfrey, he’s likely to wind up in the bullpen, and the idea of having two pitchers not used to warming up quickly in a seven-man bullpen was not considered feasible.
May is in camp, allegedly competing with Tommy Milone and Pelfrey for the fifth spot in the rotation, but unless he goes up in flames it appears Milone will open in that role, giving the Twins one left-handed starter.
It’s almost a certainty that the first two starters in Rochester’s rotation will be May and Meyer. Again.
The third pitcher acquired in the Span/Revere deals was Worley. He was the Opening Day starter in 2013, not because of anything he had done in spring training but in an effort to give some credibility to the Revere trade.
Worley lasted only 10 disastrous starts with the Twins: 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA. He showed little interest once optioned to Rochester and wound up getting sent home from there in the middle of August.
The Twins sold Worley to Pittsburgh last spring. They might have gotten enough money to buy the popcorn machine that's new to the Hammond Stadium press box this spring.
The Pirates fixed him, as they did Francisco Liriano after coming apart for the Twins and then doing nothing for the White Sox.
Throw in May’s 10 games for the Twins late last summer, when he was 3-6 with a 7.88 ERA, and this is the combined big-league bounty to this point for the trades of both of Gardy’s center fielders in the offseason of 2012-13:
Twenty games (19 starts) and a 4-11 record with a 7.54 ERA.
Span and Revere? As a brief note, they did tie as the National League hits leaders with 184 apiece in 2014.
Meantime, the Twins still don’t have anyone resembling an every-day center fielder, not until the arrival of Buxton. Presumably, he will be a bit younger for his first big-league at-bat than Alex Meyer will be if he ever gets a chance to throw a big-league pitch.