This spring, there has been plenty of consternation in the Phillies organization and around the Phillies fan nation.
Seemingly everyday a new concern arises, whether it’s Chase Utley’s knee, Dominic Brown’s hand, Placido Polanco’s elbow, etc. Adding Luis Castillo will certainly give depth to the infield, but what about the outfield?
Today, reports are the Phillies are actively looking to acquire a veteran outfielder who would be able to backup Shane Victorino in center field. At the same time, scouts who cover the Washington Nationals are writing that the team is actively shopping center fielder Nyjer Morgan. One scout even said, “They’re trying to give him away.”
Phillies fans should be very familiar with Morgan, who’s spent the last two seasons in Washington. He is known for his defense, speed and fiery attitude (no surprise for a former Canadian junior hockey leaguer).
Questions about his temper and discipline are well founded, as he has had more than his fair share of brush-ups with opposing pitchers. However, what seems to be lost is just how productive he has been in four seasons while playing for perennial losers, Washington and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Excluding last season, Morgan has been better than average at the plate hitting .305 (.283 overall) with a .344 OBP and .704 OPS. He is also a great base-running threat, averaging 33 steals since 2009. Most importantly, he is a solid center fielder.
In evaluating his team this spring, Charlie Manuel has reiterated again and again that his team needs to get back to playing small ball. Since 2008, they've had no need to utilize this practice. But the loss of Jayson Werth in free agency and the uncertain return of Chase Utley has forced the team to re-think their strategy.
Playing small ball means getting men on, advancing by stealing, employing the sacrifice bunt and resisting the urge to swing for the fences. In short, Manuel is hoping his team starts manufacturing more runs.
Morgan is the epitome of this style of play. He steals bases, bunts for hits and has only hit four home runs in his career.
Morgan would be a great situational player and platoon option for the Phillies. Considering he's at his best against right-handed pitching (.333 average), he could be an invaluable substitute for Shane Victorino who hits a lowly .233 against righties. Furthermore, the Phillies have the oldest starting lineup in baseball; it is necessary to add depth and protect their aging stars.
While the Phillies' payroll has soared north of $170 million this year, and general manager Ruben Amaro has said repeatedly that there is no more money to spend, Morgan’s $427,000 salary would be manageable—especially considering they’d have to trade a contract to acquire him.
The Nationals certainly won’t give up Morgan for nothing, but the team appears comfortable with Rick Ankiel at CF and need to make room for future outfielder and hot prospect Bryce Harper.
This comfort, and the Nationals' apparent disillusion with Morgan, should be all the Phillies need to inquire about his services.