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Thom Loverro: Nationals GM Rizzo plays his cards right in signing Span

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Thom Loverro

Mike Rizzo is one close-to-the-vest guy.

Going into the winter meetings, everyone is talking about B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn as center field prizes, and out of the blue the Nationals general manager surprised everyone by pulling the Denard Span card, one no one even considered was in the deck.

In this day and age of free-flowing information and speculation, Rizzo knows how to keep things quiet. He would make a great replacement for David Petraeus as CIA boss.

After the news broke Thursday afternoon that the Nationals traded highly touted pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for Span, it was one of those "of course" moments.

There was speculation in 2011 the Nationals were trying to acquire Span. In fact, if it wasn't for the post-concussion issues that were plaguing Span at the time, Drew Storen likely wouldn't have been on the mound for Game 5 of the National League Division Series against St. Louis in October. He would have been with the Minnesota Twins.

"I've known him for a long time," Rizzo told reporters. "I've seen him since he played at Tampa high school and just watched him develop as a player year in and year out."

So does the Span card give Rizzo and the Nationals a winning hand for 2013? Is it a good deal?

I think so, but they gave up value in Meyer, the 6-foot-9 right-hander who some observers believed had the best arm in the organization that wasn't attached to Stephen Strasburg.

"To get a good, established major league player at Denard's age with the contract that he has, you're going to have to give up a good quality player," Rizzo said. "To give up an Alex Meyer for Denard Span, it's always a difficult decision to make, but one we felt fit our time frame."

Span's statistics show the Nationals got a quality leadoff hitter -- a career .284 hitter over five seasons and one of the top on-base percentage players in baseball. His .357 career on-base percentage is 10th among outfielders with at least 2,500 career plate appearances. He can steal bases and is a strong center fielder.

One thing Rizzo said to reporters is telling for future moves, if we are trying to read his poker face: "We continue to call upon our scouts and player development to add to that system each and every year."

The departure of Meyer leaves the Nationals a little thin in young pitching prospects who may be a step or two away from the major league club. All future moves may depend on whether they can re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche.

But don't be surprised if another move in the coming weeks is made to restock the pitching prospect cupboard, if it is the right deal for Rizzo -- with Michael Morse the main trading chip.

Meanwhile, the simple question is: Are the Nationals better now than they were Thursday morning? Yes.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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