Late in 2012, both the Phillies and Washington Nationals were hunting for center fielders. The free agent market had a bunch of them, including Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and, to a lesser extent, Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton signed a five-year, $123 million deal. Upton's contract was five years, $75.25 million. Bourn signed for four years and $48 million, Pagan for four years at $40 million and Victorino for three years, $39 million. All were deals that were more than the Phils or Nats were willing to dole out, especially for a collection of veterans on the wrong side of 30 years old.
So instead, both teams targeted the outfield of the Minnesota Twins, with Washington landing Denard Span in exchange for minor league pitcher Alex Meyer, and the Phillies trading for Ben Revere in exchange for Vance Worley and minor leaguer Trevor May.
Needless to say, both deals have worked out pretty well for both teams. After a 2-for-3 Sunday, Revere is the National League's co-batting leader, tied with Justin Morneau at .314. He also stole his 38th base of the year, and could become the first Phillie since Ed Delahanty in 1898 to hit at least .300 and steal 50 or more bases. Also, if he can hold off Morneau, he'd be the first Phils' batting champ since Richie Ashburn in 1958.
Meanwhile, Span is hitting .301 with an on-base percentage of .353, better than Revere's .333 OBP, with a better walk-rate (7.7% to 2.3%) and 20 more runs scored (78 to 58) than Revere. Here is how they stack up since the start of the 2013 season.
Revere missed the second half of last year after fouling a ball off his foot and breaking it (his foot, not the ball). And overall, Span has been the more valuable player, accumulating 6.8 wins above replacement, while Revere has managed 2.4. However, Revere has bested Span in stolen bases and batting average since the start of '13, and is only slightly behind in on-base percentage.
Where Span really has an advantage over Revere is defensively. According to Fangraph's defensive metrics (which are admittedly not something one should take as gospel), Span has been the second-best defensive center fielder in the NL over the last two years, while Revere is 7th among the eight center fielders with at least 800 plate appearances.
Neither team traded away anything they're missing right now to acquire either player. The 24-year-old Meyer is a nice arm and in Triple-A Rochester has a 3.43 ERA with a 10.9 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 season in 25 starts. If he were in the Phillies system, he'd already be in the rotation, but with the Nationals, there would be no room for him.
Meanwhile, Worley is no longer in the Minnesota organization. Instead, he's pitching for the Pirates and has put together a nice season for Pittsburgh, with a 3.14 ERA and 3.64 FIP in 12 starts for them. Trevor May has had a very nice bounce-back season for Triple-A Rochester, with a 2.84 ERA in 18 starts there, striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings and walking 3.6 per nine. In three starts with the Twins, he's 0-3 with an 8.79 ERA.
It's also important to consider the cost of each player, which at the end of the day is the reason the Phils decided to focus on Revere and not Span.
While not an expensive player, Span is earning $6.5 million this year, and at the time he was acquired, had two years and $11.75 million guaranteed (including a $500,000 buyout). The Nats have a $9 million option on Span for next year that they will likely pick up.
Revere, meanwhile, is far cheaper and under team control for much longer. He's making just $1.95 million this year, and cannot become a free agent until 2018. He's also 26 this year, whereas Span is four years older, at 30. The Phils figure to get more years of service out of their acquisition than the Nats will get out of theirs.
Certainly, there are downsides to Revere's game. He does not walk. I mean, like, ever. His defense, while it has improved as the season has gone on, still is not terribly good. And he has one of the weakest arms in baseball, something baserunners (save for the braindead Jhonny Peralta yesterday) have taken advantage of all season.
But he is also capable of days like yesterday.
Revere is a pretty one-dimensional player, a player whose hit tool must remain elite for him to be a starting center fielder. But over the course of two years now, Revere has hit above .300, and his .343 on-base percentage out of the lead-off spot is 7th-best in MLB among all players with at least 400 plate appearances this season. Span's .355 is 5th, by the way.
While Span has been the better overall player, Revere is younger, costs less, and has still has room to improve. Both teams made solid trades in the fall of 2012 and both teams have gotten a productive player for much less than it would have cost them to pay for a free agent two years ago.