For some, it’s about love of the game. For others, it’s about the extravagant, high-roller lifestyle complete with luxury cars and multimillion-dollar mansions. So where does 11-year major-league veteran Denard Span fall on that spectrum?
Well for Span, it’s at least a little about the money. Span didn’t earn a penny in 2019, choosing to sit out the season when teams wouldn’t pay his quota. And now the 36-year-old outfielder is calling it quits, choosing to retire on “principle.”
“I'm a man of principles, and when those principles aren't met, I can't go along with it,” the .281 lifetime hitter expressed to Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com. “I got an offer for league minimum. It was just unreal.”
Span, who debuted as a Minnesota Twin in 2008, acknowledges his skill set has deteriorated somewhat in recent years as age and injuries have taken their toll. But Span thought his big-league track record warranted more respect than teams showed him on the open market in 2019. “I honestly recognize that I'm not the player that I was when I was in D.C. or when I was in Minnesota. But, I still know that I have value,” said Span, who holds career-highs of 184 hits and 31 steals, both accomplished during his tenure with the Washington Nationals. “I'm not a center fielder or premier player anymore, but that doesn't mean I can't help a ball club win a championship or win games.”
Drafted 20th overall out of Tampa Catholic High School in 2002, Span didn’t have one of his better seasons in 2018, but still produced a reasonable .261/.341/.419 batting line with 11 homers and 58 RBI (his most since 2010) over 501 plate appearances for Seattle and Tampa Bay. “I'm not the $12-million player anymore,” said Span, referring to his $12-million club option for 2019, which the Mariners declined. “But from what I did [in 2018], that doesn't tell me I'm worth $1 million or worth $1.5 million or worth league minimum.”
Ultimately Span, who netted $62.775 million over his 11 major-league seasons, decided he’d rather spend time with his wife and two kids than accept what he perceived as an unfair salary. “At the end of the day, I want people to get that I didn't play because of principles,” said the former Twins, Nationals, Giants, Rays and Mariners outfielder. “Point blank.”
Span’s comments come at a fragile time in MLB with the league’s ongoing labor dispute frustrating fans while contributing to the sport’s image problem. While the NBA and NHL have moved toward resuming their respective seasons, MLB’s 2020 campaign remains in serious jeopardy amid contentious negotiations between stubborn players and owners.
Should Span be commended for putting down his glove to spend more time with his family, or does his mindset speak to the troubling situation we’re in with neither side accepting compromise? That’s up for debate.