Outfielder Nyjer Morgan was a great pickup for the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 2011 season. He already had some experience in the majors, he had mojo to burn and proved to be a fierce competitor, to a fault. He was also fairly inexpensive, salary-wise, and the Brewers obtained him from the Nats for Cutter Dykstra. Dykstra may never make it to the major leagues, although he seems to have had a better year in 2012 than in 2011, playing in the low minors in Washington’s system. In Milwaukee, not only did Morgan win fans over with his willingness to sacrifice his health to win games, exhibited in such acts as bowling over a catcher or two at home plate, he also brought with him the elusive ‘Tony Plush’ pseudo-personality that became a sensation in Brew Town primarily because of Morgan’s own brash and bizarre nature. I was definitely a fan of Morgan in 2011 while he had one of his best years, batting .304 with 61 runs scored and 37 RBI. Morgan brought an energy that the team used as part of its fuel toward a deep playoff run. Things started to sour a bit with the incidents in the playoffs with the Cardinals. In 2012, Morgan started fading into the background for the Brewers.
Let’s back that up a little bit. Morgan did have one of the too-few great moments in Brewers postseason history with his walk-off hit that drove in Carlos Gomez versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. That Game 5 triumph will solidly place Morgan in the memories of Brewers fans forever. That hit was big; it was HUGE. But I think Brewers fans started to see some of the unintended, perhaps, but negative consequences of Morgan’s behavior in the NLCS of 2011. Morgan’s run-in with Chris Carpenter of St. Louis, while probably justified after Carpenter jawed at him, only helped the Brewers to lose focus in that series, rather than gain it. Morgan seemed to be a bad influence in that Cardinals series because the Cardinals and their fans went after Morgan and it became a distraction for the team. Whether my recollections on that are accurate or not, it’s hard to tell. It was a battle of perceptions and remains largely a subjective decision on whether Morgan was right or wrong, helpful or not.
Why Morgan, Plush, Tony Tombstone and whoever else have been quiet in 2012 is anyone’s guess, but maybe he was told to keep it on the down low after a raucous 2011. Ron Roenicke seemed to get annoyed at times with Morgan’s behavior last year, but Morgan was so relatively unassuming and demure this year that apparently no issues arose, at least not publicly. I don’t want to see Morgan go because I think he’s worn out his welcome or because he’s a bad guy. I think he should be non-tendered in the offseason because he’s getting expensive and the Brewers have plenty of other options for a fourth outfielder. Morgan will no doubt earn a raise on his $2.35 million salary for 2012, and the money the team could save by paying Logan Schafer about one fifth of what Morgan will earn next year could be better spent elsewhere, like on the bullpen.
It’s as simple as that. The team could plug any number of guys into the reserve outfielder role, including Caleb Gindl. Schafer and Gindl have earned some major-league playing time. When Nyjer Morgan was one-half of a very successful center-field platoon with Gomez in 2011, his salary was something the team could deal with. But Morgan’s numbers dropped considerably in 2012 when it came to runs, RBI, batting average (.239) and hits. He had over 100 fewer plate appearances this year, and it became clear as the season went on that Roenicke and others were leaning heavily toward Gomez as the full-time center fielder. Morgan’s slow start this year didn’t help his cause, and Gomez is still a work-in-progress, to be sure, but he showed significant improvement at the plate in 2012. Gomez had nearly twice as many plate appearances this year compared to 2011, and he more than doubled his hit total this year (108); he hit more homers than he had in the previous three years combined. He also stole over twice as many bases in 2012 (37). The team owes it to itself and the fans to find out if Gomez can break through to the other side. Morgan, meanwhile, was left with little to do besides become the dugout cheerleader and advisor. I’m not sure what Morgan has left in the tank, or if he can bounce back to his 2011 form. But I believe he could play a more productive and satisfying role on another team than he could with the Brewers. The ultimate factor, though, is the money involved. Morgan has been one of the more interesting and enigmatic characters in Brewers history, but it’s time to say ‘Tony, bon voyage’.