8:54am: Span won’t resume baseball activities for four to six weeks, manager Matt Williams told reporters, including Janes (Twitter link). Taylor will see the bulk of playing time in center field this spring in his absence.
7:33am: The Nationals announced on Monday that center fielder Denard Span underwent surgery to repair a right core muscle injury (Twitter link). The recovery timeframe for this surgery can sometimes be as short as a month — Brett Gardner had a similar procedure in October and had a four-week recovery period, per ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand — so it’s possible that Span would be in game shape by about Opening Day. Others, such as Justin Verlander, who had the surgery prior to the 2014 season, had a six week recovery period (via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian).
Even if Span were to be in game shape in four weeks, I’d imagine he’d still open the season on the DL, as he’d need some time to get up to speed in Triple-A after missing virtually all of Spring Training. Span had already undergone surgery this offseason to repair a sports hernia, tweets Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, who adds that Span showed no noticeable ill effects from the operation in an 0-for-2 performance in the spring opener against the Mets.
The 31-year-old Span is entering his third season as the Nationals’ center fielder after being acquired from the Twins in a swap for top prospect Alex Meyer. He’s enjoyed a pair of very nice seasons in D.C., particularly last year, when he hit .302/.355/.416 with five homers, 31 steals and a National-League-leading 184 hits.
In addition to hoping for a quick recovery to help the Nationals, who are considered by most to be favorites in the NL East, Span has personal motivation to get back on the field soon as well. He’s slated to hit the free agent market next winter for the first time in his career. Span originally signed a five-year, $16.5MM extension with the Twins, and the Nats made the easy call to exercise his $9MM option for the 2015 season this winter. He’ll be in competition with younger options such as Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and Colby Rasmus on next year’s free agent market.
If Span is indeed unable to open the season with the team, the Nationals have some options. Nate McLouth and top prospect Michael Taylor are both on the 40-man roster. McLouth himself may not be ready, as Janes wrote in this morning’s Post that he is still recovering from right shoulder surgery and has yet to see game action this spring, although he is close. As far as non-roster invitees go, Tony Gwynn Jr. is an excellent defender and could be leaned upon to help bridge the gap if necessary. Keep in mind, too, that the Nats are also waiting on Jayson Werth to recovery from early January shoulder surgery, so two of their three projected starters in the outfield may not be ready to kick off the season.