|(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Well, Mike Rizzo was right about one aspect of it when he said, "It was Ankiel winning the job, not Nyjer losing the job.”
Because on Dec. 21 -- the day the Washington Nationals signed Rick Ankiel -- he "won" the job and it was the last day Nyjer Morgan was in their plans, in my humble opinion.
Morgan's comments to the media earlier last week about his impending departure were only the final few taps on the nail that had already been driven.
Morgan's history in D.C. is well-told at this point. For ten weeks in the summer of 2009, upon his joining the Nats via trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was the second coming of Lou Brock. Morgan got on base, created havoc once he got there, played stellar center field defense, and as a bonus, he had a larger-than-life alter ego named "Tony Plush" that endeared himself to the fans of NatsTown.
But all that came to a crashing halt on Aug. 27 that season when he broke his hand sliding headfirst trying to steal third base against the Chicago Cubs.
He was never the same player again.
Though the team touted him that off-season as one of the cornerstones of the franchise, proudly proclaiming they had their center fielder of the present and future, Morgan could not deliver on those promises in 2010, batting .253/.319/.314 and leading the N.L. in caught stealing for the second consecutive season.
He also had regular breakdowns in center, taking bad routes, throwing to the wrong base or missing the cut-off man with his wet noodle of an arm.
On top of the on-field performance issues, Morgan was distraction off the field as well. He threw a temper tantrum on a ball in play that led to an inside-the-park home run, twice unnecessarily instigated contact on opposing catchers, and incited a brawl against the Florida Marlins. He was suspended twice; one of the suspensions was upheld and he missed eight games at the end of the season as a result.
The Nationals, GM Mike Rizzo and Manger Jim Riggleman, both talked Sunday about how hard Morgan played in this camp, that he was a model citizen, and that the decision to send him packing was based on Ankiel rather than Morgan.
“It wasn’t really what [Morgan] didn’t show as much as what Ankiel did show,” Rizzo told reporters Sunday morning. “He could go get the ball in the outfield. His arm was really a weapon. He can create a lot of damage with one swing of the bat. I focus it more on what Ankiel did than on what Nyjer didn’t do. After the first week, he played really well. He did everything he had to do. It was Ankiel winning the job not Nyjer losing the job.”
To which I respectfully say: hogwash. Ankiel has hit .218/.271/.455 this spring. That doesn't beat anyone out of a job. Those are spring numbers of a guy that's had a job the whole time.
This move makes the Nationals a worse team.
Morgan has a lifetime .308/.361/.387 line against right-handed pitchers. That's perfectly acceptable for a leadoff hitter. If the Nats had tried this off-season to find a right-handed hitting platoon partner for Morgan in center, they would have had a complete player in the position.
Instead, they loaded up on left-handed hitters to try to replace him. Roger Bernadina was the in-house candidate when he lost the starting left field job to Michael Morse, but Riggleman is perfectly happy giving the job to Ankiel, a player that he and hitting coach Rick Eckstein were already familiar with -- and fond of -- from their time in the St. Louis organization together.
Now Bernadina, a player entering his prime who had double digit home runs and steals last season, finds himself battling journeyman Laynce Nix for the reserve outfielder slot.
But let's be clear -- Ankiel can't really hit. He's got some pop when he makes contact, but he does so so infrequently (.248/.312/.441) that it really doesn't matter. Ankiel's claim to fame is a 25 home run season in 2008, but he hasn't hit 25 home runs combined since that season.
And he's even worse than Morgan against lefties (.232/.282/.386), so Jerry Hairston, a second baseman by trade, will play center against southpaws.
Plus, Morgan was the only option to lead off for this team. With him gone, and Ankiel hitting sixth or seventh, Ian Desmond will be forced into a role that does not suit him and could potentially ruin his value with the bat if he allows the pressure to dictate what type of player he "should" be.
No, if this decision was about what makes this team better, Morgan was the answer. Many fans, tired of his antics, will not be sorry to see Morgan go. But his leaving has ramifications throughout the Nats lineup.
And casts even more doubt on the decision-making process in NatsTown.
|(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|