Morgantown has come to Miller Park. The speedy outfielder, picked up in a trade with the Washington Nationals, is expected to spell Carlos Gomez in center, but has potential to receive the bulk of the playing time. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to look into the Brewers’ newest acquisition, but my initial impression of the trade is a favorable one. In Cutter Dykstra (what a great name), the Brewers traded a guy who was not likely to make the big league roster in the near future, if ever. In return, they received much-needed outfield depth. Let’s look at Morgan’s offense, speed, and defense.
- Offense: Morgan broke into the big leagues on September 1, 2007, with a hit against his new team. In four seasons of major league play, his slash line of .283/.344/.360 shows Morgan is a contact hitter with virtually no power (a career-high 3 HRs in 2009). His 2010 strikeout and walk rates (17% and 7%, respectively) were nothing exceptional, but were also down from about 16% and 7.5% in 2009. If Morgan performs at historic levels, he looks to be about league-average offensively. However, that would represent a big upgrade over Carlos Gomez’s below-average plate production. If Gomez cannot continue his hot spring and falls back to old habits, he will almost certainly cede playing time to Morgan.
- Speed: One of Morgan’s greatest weapons is his speed. He nabbed 42 bags in 2009, and 34 last season. But his speed is also one of his greatest downfalls; Morgan was caught stealing a league-leading 17 times in both 2009 and 2010, leading Fangraphs to describe his approach as “reckless.” I don’t envy Ed Sedar’s job with Morgan this year.
- Defense: Morgan’s defensive metrics are rock-solid. He has done very well defensively in both left and center, but most do not believe his defensive skills overcome his offensive deficiencies. For the Brewers, defense is less essential, as starting CF Gomez is more than capable of running down balls. Both Gomez and Morgan appear to have strong arms, with Morgan probably being slightly better in that respect.
The bottom line: In Morgan, the Brewers have protected themselves against injury (or ineffectiveness) to Carlos Gomez. Morgan could ultimately challenge Gomez for playing time if Gomez’s hitting skills sag, and that might be a welcome thing. The Brewers have lacked a solid number two hitter, and a cursory review shows Morgan could fit the bill. They could pretty seamlessly insert Morgan into the lineup without giving up much in terms of defense.
Of course, the Morgan-Dykstra swap goes hand-in-hand with the Brewers’ decision to trade outfielder Chris Dickerson to the Yankees for spot-starter/long-reliever Sergio Mitre. While Dickerson was widely expected to make the club, injuries to starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum forced the Brewers to find a serviceable arm out of the pen. Although neither Dickerson nor Mitre will dazzle, the Brewers took a position at which they had a surplus (outfield) and turned it into something they were short of (long relievers capable of starting in a pinch). If the Dickerson/Mitre trade indeed helped pave the way for the Morgan trade, it must be viewed as all the more positive.