Because of his on-field brawls, confrontations with fans and suspensions late last season, Nyjer Morgan‘s reputation has become that of an explosive, feisty outfielder who’s ready to fight at the slightest transgression.
This is exactly a year after the Nationals were credited with finding a defensive gem whose speed and glove made him the centerpiece of a trade with the Pirates—as 2009 wound down, the stat guys were suddenly in love with Nyjer Morgan. And he hit .351 in 49 games after joining the Nats.
Neither appellation is accurate.
The Nationals traded Morgan to the Brewers for minor league infielder/outfielder Cutter Dykstra (Lenny Dykstra‘s son) to clear a logjam of mediocrity in their outfield. This wasn’t so much about Rick Ankiel beating out Morgan, but that the Nats wanted to get rid of Morgan and his exponentially multiplying baggage of perceived bellicosity.
Morgan’s not a troublemaker, per se; it has to be remembered that he was a hockey player as a teenager and—a pretty good one—and understanding the culture of players literally fistfighting for playing time, he’s not going to tolerate any infringement on his personal space for fear of others taking similar liberties.
Nor was he this tremendous pickup for the Nats despite his terrific play late in 2009.
Of all the players for whom Morgan has been traded, the one I would want above all is now-Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan and his searing fastball.
As for this trade, the Brewers were trapped in between a club built on power and starting pitching with a shaky defense, a questionable bullpen and gaping black holes in their lineup.
Incumbent center fielder Carlos Gomez has more long-term potential than Morgan, but Morgan is a far better player right now with similar defensive skills; the Brewers are built to win now and they have to get off to a good start. To that end, as a known entity, Morgan should be the everyday center fielder to begin the season.
Independent of the bizarre, undefined way in which the Nationals are building their club—they have two cornerstone, franchise players in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper along with some good young talent in Ryan Zimmerman; and they’re paying a deranged amount of money for a good, but not great player in Jayson Werth—Dykstra is a good acquisition; he’s 21, versatile and had a fine year at the plate in A ball in 2010. He’s far from the big leagues, but can be part of the future with Strasburg and Harper.
This trade is a win-win for both sides.
I’d suggest you get yourself a complete survival kit and do not light a match.
Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.
I published a full excerpt of my book here.