Span back home with Rays, but for how long?
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — Denard Span concedes he’s hesitant to get comfortable with the idea of playing for his hometown team.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired the veteran outfielder this winter, but are trimming payroll and building for the future.
That leaves the 33-year-old Span, who’s due to make $11 million this summer, uncertain what uniform he’ll be wearing on opening day.
“I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I can’t control that,” said Span, acquired along with infielder Christian Arroyo and two minor leaguers in a trade that sent Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants.
A native of Washington, D.C., Span moved to Tampa when he was 3 years old. He’s maintained his offseason home in Florida throughout a 10-year major league career that includes stints with the Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals.
“It’s really surreal to be able to put this uniform on and live in my own house and stay in my own bed. I drive familiar streets that I’ve driven on since I was a kid,” he said. “I haven’t been home in 16 springs and 18 summers, so I’m just looking forward to playing in front of family and friends.”
In 2010, in fact, he was playing for the Twins in a spring training game against the Yankees in Tampa when he lined a foul ball that hit his mother in the chest. Span went into the stands and stayed as paramedics checked his mom, who was OK and remained at the park.
But with the Rays re-tooling for the future, it’s difficult to ignore the prospect that Span could be gone by the end of spring training.
Tampa Bay general manager Erik Neander is under a mandate to trim payroll. In addition to trading Longoria in December, the Rays allowed one of their best starting pitcher, Alex Cobb, to become a free agent and have moved three more players — pitcher Jake Odorizzi and outfielders Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson — in the past week at a savings of nearly $15 million.
Tampa Bay’s on the hook for $9 million of Span’s salary for 2018, with the Giants paying the rest. There’s a $4 million buyout on an option for 2019.
“I’m taking it one day at a time. ... My focus is on proving to everybody that I belong here this spring training and just trying to do my job,” Span said.
A .283 career hitter, Span batted .272 with 12 homers in 129 games in 2017, his second season in San Francisco.
A center fielder most of his career, Span said he’s more than comfortable moving to left with Tampa Bay, which has defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier in center.
“I’m fine with that at this point in my career. He can have it,” said Span, who turns 34 on Feb. 27. “It’s fun to watch him.”
The Rays, meanwhile, think Span’s leadership can be a plus in a mostly-young clubhouse.
“Talking to Denard, he prides himself a little bit on that,” manager Kevin Cash said.
“When the whole trade went down, we do a good job of going finding out about players, and Denard Span, his image throughout the game is unbelievable,” Cash added. “The way he carried himself whether it was the Twins, the Giants, he’s been to a lot of different places and he’s always been a team player and goes about his business the right way.”
Span wants to be as helpful as possible, noting Twins veterans such as Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau took time with him as a young player to teach him how to be a professional.
“The role’s reversed, and I take that as a blessing,” Span said. “I’ve been blessed to have as long of a career as I’ve had, and it speaks volumes to the many blessings I’ve had.”
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