D.C. CF?: Noting (as Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore did in an article a few weeks back entitled, "Nationals would have interest in Matt Kemp") that the Washington Nationals would consider making a deal for LA Dodgers' outfielder Matt Kemp if he was available this winter, MLB Trade Rumors' writer Tim Dierkes, earlier this week in an article entitled, "Trade Market For Center Fielders", included the Nats on a list of teams along with the Royals, Braves, Marlins and Padres, who might be in search of a center fielder for 2011, though both Washington's GM and Manager were quoted late in the season saying Nyjer Morgan would be given every opportunity to hit in the leadoff spot and presumably continue playing center field in D.C. next season.
Morgan's issues hitting left-handed pitching (.200/.280/.252 in '10, .200/.292/.269 career) are well-established, and the 30-year-old outfielder who took the nation's capital by storm in 2009 struggled defensively and on the base paths last season, raising concerns about whether or not the former Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder was the center field solution the Nats had been searching for since arriving in Washington in 2005.
In a pregame scrum with Nats beat reporters on the field in late September, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo did tell reporters, as MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote in an article entitled, "Nats put rotation atop offseason priority list", that in addition to the front-line starter which Rizzo described as the Nats' "No. 1 priority going into the offseason," the Nats' G.M. "...also mentioned that he would like a bat at the top of the order to set up the sluggers to drive in runs," and Mr. Rizzo, "...said that center fielder Nyjer Morgan will be given every opportunity to fill that spot during Spring Training." Nats' Skipper JIm Riggleman defended Morgan as well, telling reporters that he believed last year was simply a down year for the outfielder:
"I like to look at the bigger sample. Coming into this year, Nyjer was a .360 OBP, .303 lifetime hitter in the big leagues, and so I think, 'Is Nyjer going to be a .303 hitter?' I don't know. But I don't think he's going to be a .250 hitter either. I think somewhere in between is what Nyjer is and I think, his .360 OBP, if we can move back towards that, that would be huge for us to get him back in that area, because that's big, that leadoff hitter OBP is so important, and Nyjer has a bigger history at .360 than he does at .318 where he is now."
Will the Nats go into Spring Training with Morgan the only legitimate option in center? MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr reported yesterday that Justin Maxwell hoped he could return by the start of Spring Training after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow back in October, could a healthy Maxwell finally make good on the potential some have seen in him for years? A right-handed platoon partner for Morgan is the ideal situation. (A writer I spoke to recently mentioned a certain NLCS MVP who'd make a great 4th OF/platoon partner in CF w/ Morgan.) Roger Bernadina playing center doesn't solve any of the issues Morgan presents the Nats with, and Bernadina is a candidate for LF or RF depending on how the roster shapes up going forward. The Nats need a starting pitcher, and they need to either sign Adam Dunn or find a replacement. But the holes on the roster don't end there. If the Nationals are serious about contending any time in the near future they're going to have to start building a legitimate major league roster...Is Nyjer Morgan a legitimate leadoff man and everyday center fielder?