Sunday, June 28, 2009

Nyjer Morgan for Lastings Milledge?

The rumors are that the Nationals are trying to swap Lastings Milledge for Nyjer Morgan. We wouldn't be fleecing the Pirates by any stretch, and I don't love the idea of trading a young player with upside at the bottom of his value, but I don't think this is a terrible idea.

The argument for Morgan is simple: the guy can flat-out play defense. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR/150) says his glove is worth 25.4 runs above average per 150 games.

We all know how bad the Nationals defense has been, but centerfield has been particularly terrible. For the year, Nationals centerfielders have posted a ghastly -17.8 UZR/150. A 43.2 run swing at a single position is enormous. That's like the difference between 2008 Willy Taveras, the worst regular CF in baseball, and 2008 Josh Hamilton.

The glaring defensive ineptitude of the Nationals is really killing them right now. The bullpen can't get four outs, and the team won't risk making young arms go deep in games.

The knock on Morgan is that he really has no power at all. His OBP last season was a solid .345, but that came on the strength of an unsustainable .367 BABIP, so one would expect him to be back in the low-.300s in OBP this year. That's what most projection systems expected from him--CHONE had him at .326, and PECOTA had him way down at .300.

This year the BABIP is indeed down to .319, which for a guy with his wheels probably is sustainable, but his walk rate has nearly doubled, and his OBP remains right at .345. He still strikes out more than you'd like for a guy with his skill set, but overall he can keep this up if he keeps walking in 10% of his plate appearances.

Morgan's best role would be as a fourth outfielder defensive replacement and pinch runner, but for the Nationals, with their glaring weaknesses, he'd be a more than an adequate stop-gap if he's hitting .330 OBP. At .345 he's a legitimately average overall starting centerfielder.

And at 28, Morgan isn't young. But he started baseball relatively late. It's possible that he's still getting better.

Shipping Milledge away would be hard. He's still just 24, and he really did show steady improvement over his 2008 season.

But there's a big part of me that's felt for a while that Milledge won't be an above average player unless he can figure out how to make his glove play in center. He just won't have enough bat to be a premium corner outfielder. If Rizzo's judgment is that it's not going to happen (a judgment I'd be hard-pressed to provide evidence to counter), then I see Milledge as a fourth outfielder on a contender also.

Plus, Rizzo clearly doesn't like Milledge. Rizzo values defense, and Milledge isn't very good at it. Rizzo likes good clubhouse guys, and Milledge isn't one.

If the team could get more for Milledge, then obviously they should. But I'm not sure there'd be any takers. In fact, the coverage is that it's the Pirates that turned down the Milledge-for-Morgan deal, asking for Craig Stammen too. Two years ago, Milledge fetched Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. Since then, his stock has surely dropped at least some.

It's certainly possible that this would be a really bad idea. If Milledge clicks and becomes a plus defender in a corner outfield spot and his bat takes a leap forward, he could still be a much better player than Morgan for a lot longer. But he won't be a star. Fans still reminiscing about rumors of Lastings for Manny straight up are way, way out of touch with the current reality.

This is the kind of deal that's less about making a splash and more about building a team. That's probably what I like most about it. From the greater emphasis on defense to the groundball pitchers to the bias against raw tools guys in the draft, Rizzo is showing that he wants to build a basebal team rather than a collection of flashy names.

We're seeing a guy with an actual plan for constructing a roster and maximizing the value of assets available. I know it's unfamiliar for Nationals fans, but it's a welcome change.
Update: As noted in the comments, there's a report that the Nationals are pursuing Braves prospect Jordan Schaefer. This would be an exciting development, and the Braves are desperate for a corner outfield bat. I've thought they were a good possible trading option for a long time. But it's hard to imagine the Braves doing this for less than Adam Dunn.

13 comments:

JayB said...

I welcome the change in your views on Milledge. He is "clearly not a good clubhouse guy". He is not a passable CF......He is not coachable.....you sound like me over a year ago.....

Steven said...

My position on Milledge hasn't changed. I've said for a year or more that if he can't be an at least average CF that he's not a guy we should consider of piece of a contender.

I didn't say he's not coachable. In fact I said he clearly is getting better and that it would be tough to see him go.

I'm also not much for "clubhouse guys." There are a lot of teams that got along great with excellent leadership that were terrible. I'll take talent over "make-up" 7 days of the week. But Rizzo's in a different place on that.

Supporting trading Milledge for a CF who's 25 runs above average with the glove is not a sign that I've decided he has no value.

Deacon Drake said...

The objective is to get better, not necessarily younger, and with Lastings, he will be eligible for arbitration before Morgan, anyways. By baseball standards, Milledge isn't really "young" anymore. With Morgan, they get a guy who can play everyday, anywhere in the outfield, if necessary. More than likely, he will be the fifth outfielder behind Dunn, Willingham, Dukes, and Harris.

The Pirates would likely plug him in right away to see what they have got.

Steven said...

Oh I don't know about all that. Milledge is certainly still young at 24. And if they do this deal Morgan will be the starting CF every day.

Ben said...

Well, while Morgan is not young, he is certainly not so old that he couldn't be part of an upcoming push to contend. I would like something younger like a Carlos Gomez or a Carlos Gonzalez but we just don't have the pieces to fetch guys like that.

Our only choice with Milledge is to rehab him for a year and get his value up, or make a scraps deal with him.

Or the two scraps, I'd take Morgan simply because he is useful. But, I would not surrender Stamen with him. No way.

Ben said...

Gah!!!

I just had my heart jump into my throat because right under Nyjer Morgan mlbtraderumors.com mention the Nat's might be going after Schaffer. There is not a lot I wouldn't give up for him.

But that will teach me for not reading the whole sentence before I get my hopes up. The sentence begins with Bill Ladson suggests... Oh well.

Sean Hogan said...

My only problem with the deal is that Nyjer Morgan is probably too old to be around when the kids come up and develop, whereas Milledge isn't. That assumes that Milledge will be good enough to stick around, though, and I'm not sure that will happen.

Ben said...

Nyjer is only 28. I hope these kids develop before 2014, at which point he would be a shade older than Willie Harris.

Souldrummer said...

How much of an improvement is Morgan going to be over Willie Harris? Sounds like he's a defensive upgrade but offensively may be a wash. Willie continues to show signs of a little power and he has speed as well.

I'd prefer not to give up on Milledge and look to make him a supplementary piece in a one of our young pitchers plus Milledge for a clearly above average starter in the outfield.

I'd like to move Milledge but this feels too much like a sell low buy high kind of move for me.

Souldrummer said...

Does anyone have any thoughts on the Langerhans for Morris move that we made with Seattle? This sounds like a slight upgrade for us although in the grand scheme of things it's just trading for utility depth if we trade any of our infielders before the deadline. Perhaps this means that we're closer to trading Guzman than we've thought.

Hendo said...

It wouldn't surprise me to see Mike Morse as the Nats' starting SS (and Guzman gone in trade) by the end of July.

An Briosca Mor said...

If Guzman is traded, Alberto Gonzales will be the starting SS, not Mike Morse. But I seriously doubt that Guzman will be traded.

Dave Nichols said...

Morgan is 29 in three days.

In my humble opinion, this would be a bad trade.

Morgan is just a spare part.