The Nationals have always liked Michael Bourn.
But they've always loved Denard Span, too. They tried to trade for Span two years ago.
They did trade for him Thursday, in a deal that gives general manager Mike Rizzo his long-desired center fielder and leadoff hitter, and affects plenty of other players, too.
Trading for Span, who was acquired from the Twins for pitching prospect Alex Meyer, means that the Nationals will definitely be moving Bryce Harper from center field to left field. It means that Michael Morse will almost certainly play first base, and that Adam LaRoche will likely leave as a free agent (as Jon Heyman reports, the Red Sox are interested).
The Nationals were telling people Thursday that they'd still be interested in signing LaRoche, but even before trading for Span they seemed to have reached a negotiating impasse.
What does the Span trade mean for Bourn?
Obviously, it removes one more potential suitor. Bourn isn't going to Washington, just as he isn't going back to the Braves (who signed B.J. Upton on Wednesday). He could still end up with the Phillies, or perhaps agent Scott Boras will find a huge offer somewhere else.
Many people had Bourn and the Nationals as a perfect match, given their need for a center fielder and also their close working relationship with Boras. But Span was a better fit, in part because he costs so much less (he's signed for $4.75 million in 2013 and $6.5 million in 2014), and because the Nationals have Brian Goodwin, a young center fielder who performed well in the Arizona Fall League.
With Span, Harper and Jayson Werth, the Nationals will have three outfielders who are all good enough to have played center field in the big leagues. Harper showed promise in center field this past summer, but Rizzo always seemed to prefer the idea of moving him to a corner spot (as did Boras, his agent).
Span also gives the Nationals a true leadoff hitter, something they were lacking (although Werth did well as the leadoff man in the second half of 2012). The Braves were also interested in Span, but weren't willing to part with the young players the Twins asked for in return.
Meyer is a highly regarded prospect, one who could eventually help the Twins. But he spent all of 2012 in Class A, where he went 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 129 innings.