According to a tweet from Bill Ladson of MLB.com, the center field battle has lost a competitor, as he reports that the job has come down to the incumbent, Nyjer Morgan, and off-season free agent acquisition Rick Ankiel.

Either Roger Bernadina is slated to be the fourth outfielder, or he will find his way to Triple-A Syracuse, a victim of the fact he has an option remaining.

Morgan, 30, and Ankiel, 31, couldn't be more dissimilar, save for their handedness and lack of production against left-handed pitching.

Ankiel is a lifetime .232/.282/.386 hitter in 360 plate appearances against left-handed pitching.  Morgan hits .200/.292/.269 in 334 lifetime appearances versus southpaws. 

Either way, Jerry Hairston, Jr. will get his at bats and playing time in centerfield, though he's not ideal since he's an infielder by trade and only .262/.321/.383 lifetime vs. LHP.

So let's take a look at the tale of the tape.

HITTING

Morgan is a speedster, though erratic.  He makes his living beating ground balls in the dirt and hope they go through or he can beat it out to first. 

Ankiel is theoretically a slugger, hitting 25 home runs in the 2008 season, but hasn't combined for 25 since.  He slugged .387  and .389 in 2009-2010. 

Both players walk rates are significantly below league average.

BASERUNNING

Morgan has produced some impressive stolen base numbers -- but has equally destructive caught stealing numbers.  He's led the N.L. in CS in both of the last two seasons.

Ankiel has 10 stolen bases in eight seasons.

DEFENSE

Morgan's fleetness allows him to get to a lot of balls, sometimes in spectacular fashion.  Though for every highlight reel catch, Morgan misjudges a fly, misses a cut-off man, or throws to the wrong base with his wet noodle for an arm.

Ankiel is renown for his cannon of a left arm, once a flame-throwing pitcher that lost the ability to throw strikes.  He's not fast in center, but he plays within himself and makes the plays he should.  He has below average range for the position.

PERSONALITY

Morgan's less-than-sunny disposition is widely documented, including in this space.  Last year, he famously threw his glove in anger during a ball in play against Baltimore, went out of his way to run over opposing catchers twice, threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia, incited a brawl in Florida, then flexed like a WWA heel after being ejected, and was suspended for eight games at the end of the season.  He "cleanly" drew contact with Albert Pujols in yesterday's game, triggering three beanballs and a heated exchange from Tony LaRussa and Jim Riggleman, old friends.

Ankiel is widely assumed to ascend to a coaching gig when his playing career is over.  Noted for "playing the game the right way."  Regarded as a mentor to younger players during his time in St. Louis.  Has a quiet, unassuming manner.

INTANGIBLES

Morgan was acquired by Mike Rizzo in a trade in 2008 and Rizzo has been insistent upon making good on the trade.  Was a hockey player growing up and took to baseball when his hockey career stalled in major juniors.

Ankiel was on St. Louis teams when Jim Riggleman and Rick Eckstein coached for LaRussa [ed. and Jim Riggleman was the Cardinals minor league coordinator].  Was a pitcher growing up and didn't start playing outfield until his pitching career famously imploded.

BOTTOM LINE

If Morgan wins the job, Ankiel will make the team regardless.  If Riggleman decides he's had enough and goes with Ankiel, Morgan could very well be shipped to the minors or released.  I can't imagine the Nats living with Morgan on their bench.

Either way, it's bad news for Bernadina.  He's apparently lost the left field job to Michael Morse and now center field to two very flawed players.  It doesn't speak very well for his future in the organization, nor for the organization's committment to younger players in what is spposed to be a building process.

7 comments

  1. Princess Jazzy // March 22, 2011 at 4:09 PM  

    Dave, Jim Riggleman never coached for Tony LaRussa. I understand the confusion since Riggleman began coaching in the major leagues as a member of Whitey Herzog's Cardinal's coaching staff.

    Riggleman was the Cardinals Minor League Coordinator during LaRussa's current tenure with the team.

    Both managers were teammates in the Minor Leagues so they have known each other for a long time but they never coached together. Just thought you would appreciate the FYI.

    Once again, thanks for all your hard work and reporting.

  2. Dave Nichols // March 22, 2011 at 4:24 PM  

    ah yes, I should have double checked that. thanks for keeping me straight.

  3. cass // March 22, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

    First off, I don't think it's fair to say Morgan "threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia". He was cleared ny baseball of all wrong-doing in that incident. By all accounts, he was attempting to toss the ball to a fan and overthrew it, accidentally hitting another fan. Phillies fans testified that it was apparent that this was an accident.

    I also will note that you've left out all positive personality notes. By all reports, Morgan has seemed to be well-liked in the club house and was instrumental in starting up the silver elvis wig shtick from last year. Does that matter on the field? Does that make up for the incidents like the temper-tantrum homerun? Maybe not, but it's part of his personality and should be mentioned.

    Honestly, I don't think the Nats have any good options in CF. We'll get subpar performance from that position no matter what they decide, I think, until Harper comes up and either takes over or allows Werth to move over. Until then, it's just pretty much filler anyway.

  4. Dave Nichols // March 22, 2011 at 5:09 PM  

    Cass, thanks for the input. perhaps my categorization of the Philly incident isn't completely fair.

    but any goodwill generated by Morgan in the clubhouse, from what i've been able to gather and hear, has been disintegrated by his repeated poor attitude and antics.

  5. BeltwayBoy // March 23, 2011 at 11:44 AM  

    I have come to the point where I think Nyjer Morgan hurts the club more than he helps it. It is time to move on and trade or release him.

  6. Mac // March 23, 2011 at 12:59 PM  

    Gotta disagree with BeltwayBoy on this one. By all accounts, Morgan has been a model teammate this Spring, coming in early to work with Bo Porter on both baserunning and fielding. Spring is the time for him to be trying new things in the OF, or trying a new system on the bathpaths. If he hits the average of '09 and '10 he is going to be an above average leadoff hitter and center fielder.

    Whereas Ankiel adds pretty much nothing longterm to the team, IMO.

    _Mac

  7. Dave Nichols // March 23, 2011 at 1:11 PM  

    @Mac, thanks for your input. it has been reported that Morgan has taken extra work with Bo Porter, but I would caution to use the words "model teammate" unless you've observed this first hand. through talking with many people in the organization, I can tell you there are those that champion Morgan and just as many that are tired of defending him.