As Giants general manager Bobby Evans slipped a white No. 2 jersey over Denard Span’s shoulders at a news conference to introduce the team’s new outfielder Friday, Span told the crowded room, “This is like a dream come true, guys.”
The theme of Friday’s introduction was how the signing of Span for three years and $31 million, with a mutual option for a fourth year, was an ideal fit for all sides. The Giants sought a capable leadoff hitter who could strengthen their defense behind a revamped starting rotation. Span, 31, was looking for stability in his first foray into free agency after an injury-marred 2015 season.
“As soon as Denard became a free agent,” said Scott Boras, Span’s agent, “I said, ‘Hey, have I got a perfect fit for you.’ ”
Span is expected to be the Giants’ Opening Day center fielder and leadoff hitter, roles previously held by Angel Pagan, but manager Bruce Bochy, who said he has exchanged texts with Pagan, wants to talk with him directly before making any changes. Bochy praised Span as an “elite athlete” and “one of the best center fielders.”
“I always like to get with my players when there could be a change or a tweak in maybe the lineup or where they play,” Bochy said. “But it’s a very workable situation, and he’s one of the best center fielders in the game and … a proven leadoff hitter.”
That combination of center field defense and leadoff hitting meant Span’s “market was completely unique to him” this offseason, Boras said. It also made Span an obvious target for the Giants, who let leadoff hitter Nori Aoki become a free agent after the 2015 season and saw Pagan rank among the game’s worst center fielders last year.
We’re set everywhere right now. Usually going into spring training, you have some question marks, but across the infield, outfield, this is as set as we’ve been – and not just set, but as good a defensive club as I’ve ever had. Giants manager Bruce Bochy
After the Giants addressed their main offseason need by signing free-agent starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to mega-deals, Evans said the priority became strengthening the defense behind them. Bochy said the Giants have the best up-the-middle defense – with Buster Posey catching, Brandon Crawford at shortstop, Joe Panik presumably returning healthy at second base and Span in center – of teams he has managed.
“We’re set everywhere right now,” Bochy said. “Usually going into spring training, you have some question marks, but across the infield, outfield, this is as set as we’ve been – and not just set, but as good a defensive club as I’ve ever had.”
The Giants’ recent success of winning three World Series in six seasons was a strong selling point for Span, along with their offer of a multiyear deal. Boras said 11 teams wanted Span on a one-year deal, and Boras told Span that might not be a bad idea, given Span’s 2015 season was shortened by multiple surgeries. A one-year contract would have let Span test the market again after 2016.
But Span, Boras said, was “very specific” about wanting to find a longer-term home.
I’m excited to be here, excited about the tradition that this ballclub has. It’s one of the reasons why I chose here, a good clubhouse – and it seems like they win World Series every other year. New Giants outfielder Denard Span
“I’m excited to be here, excited about the tradition that this ballclub has,” Span said. “It’s one of the reasons why I chose here, a good clubhouse – and it seems like they win World Series every other year.”
Span played just 61 games in 2015 after starting the season on the disabled list because of core surgery in March and having season-ending hip surgery in August that he said was partly the result of coming back too fast from the first procedure. But Span said he feels “great” physically, a diagnosis he backed up on Twitter this week by posting a video of himself jumping over hurdles with the caption: “I’m jus sayin.”
“If we had a game today,” Span said Friday, “I could play.”
Span’s contract pays him $31 million over three years and includes $5 million in performance bonuses – Boras said Span should easily collect if he stays healthy – and a mutual option for a fourth year at $12 million with a $4 million buyout.
It was likely the last big move in an active winter for Evans and the Giants, who signed Samardzija for five years and $90 million, gave Cueto a deal that could pay him $130 million over six seasons and locked up Crawford for the next six seasons at $75 million.
“I think Bobby’s had a great offseason,” Bochy said. “We had some needs, and I don’t think we could’ve filled those needs better than what we did this offseason. … It’s up to us to go out there and play as we’re capable of playing.”