CLEARWATER , Fla. (AP) — Center fielder Denard Span and the Minnesota Twins have agreed to a $16.5 million, five-year contract, a deal that includes a $9 million team option for 2015.
"We go through a pretty good checklist of criteria before we enter discussions with a player about a long-term contract and he has been very good for us for two years," Twins general manager Bill Smith said before Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. "We thought the time was right. It's a big deal for him, it provides him with a lot of security. It provides us some certainty with our leadoff hitter and center fielder."
The 26-year-old Span became the Twins' everyday center fielder when they traded Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee in the offseason.
Span, who wasn't eligible for arbitration for another two years, was Minnesota's first-round draft pick in 2002. He spent several years in the minor leagues before cementing a spot on the big league roster last year.
"It makes me feel like I'm important to this team, to this ballclub; they didn't have to give me guaranteed money and security this early," Span said. "It's a good feeling as a young player. Now I feel like I can go out there and just take myself out of the equation and focus on the team, play ball and have fun."
Span hit .311 with eight homers, 10 triples and 68 RBIs in 145 games in 2009, while playing excellent defense in all three outfield spots.
His progression from first-round pick to the big league club's leadoff hitter was a six-year journey that began in Rookie Ball in Elizabethtown (Tenn.) in the summer of 2003. He made his major league debut in 2008.
"We've seen (Span) grow from the rookie league, step by step through the minor leagues and he's in the process of fulfilling all of those expectations, all of those projections that our scouts made on him when he was in high school," Smith said.
"We've had a good run," Smith said. "It's a tribute to our scouting staff, it's a tribute to our minor league staff, it's a tribute to our big league staff that we're able to bring young kids to the big leagues and let them play, to have the patience to let them play and let them grow."
Span credited the Twins system.
"It's something about being in the Minnesota organization, it's the way we do things around here," he said. "This is the only organization I've known, I've been here since 2002, so to know I'll be here for a longer period of time with this group of guys in the organization that drafted me, it's very special."