It has been confirmed in an email by Nyjer Morgan to espn.com that he has signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians for the 2014 season. Morgan hit .294 with 11 home runs last year for the Yokohama DeNa BayStars in the Japan Central League. The 33 year old Morgan is a career .280 hitter with 117 stolen bases. He broke into the MLB with the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2007 season, and has spent time in Pittsburgh, Washington, and, more recently Milwaukee. Morgan’s best season came in 2009 with Pittsburgh and Washington where he hit at a .307 clip, and swiped 42 bases, earning a WAR (wins-above-replacement) of 2.6.
Morgan’s one year, incentive based contract could be worth more than 1 million dollars if he is able to play his way onto the Indians’ major league roster.
This move comes nine days after the Indians signed Jeff Francouer to a minor league deal. The nine year veteran split the 2013 year between Kansas City and San Francisco. Francouer’s season was abysmal, as he hit .208 with Kansas City. The journeyman outfielder did not find San Francisco much kinder, as he hit for six points under the dreaded “Mendoza Line”, ending the season with a .194 average.
While Francouer’s signing is easily viewed as a Minor League depth move, the Morgan signing may have raised a few eyebrows among the Tribe faithful. Compare Morgan’s career slash line* of .341 / .364 / .705 with Bourn’s .335 / .364 / .700. Both hit from the left side of the plate. Both are known for their defensive presence in center field, and both are exceptionally quick. Morgan is two years older than Bourn (33 and 31 respectively).
In fact, the only real difference between these two may be their approach to the game. Bourn is a quiet, mild-mannered center fielder. He is nearly silent, and is a fierce competitor. Morgan, on the other hand, is the clubhouse clown. Morgan only does postgame interviews as his alter-ego “Tony Plush”, and is notorious for finding a way under his competitor’s skin. I can’t imagine Morgan’s antics lasting long under manager Terry Francona. Francona, who seems hell-bent on turning the Indians’ clubhouse into a family, would have to welcome in Morgan’s more than comedic routine. His attitude might serve as a fire starter for the Tribe, or it could potentially turn toxic. That is the risk of Nyjer Morgan.
While this is purely speculation, one may view the signing of Morgan as an attempt by the Indians Front Office to potentially trade Bourn for a starting pitcher. Bourn, who is due to earn 48 million dollars through 2016, would fit nicely into numerous center fields throughout the league. The Mets and The Cubs expressed interest in Bourn when he was a free agent in 2012-2013, and could easily land as viable trade partners with the Indians.
The Indians could also use that chunk of change they would be saving on Bourn’s contract to resign ace Justin Masterson, who will enter free agency after the 2014 season.
While I am not certain that Bourn will be dealt, I do hope to see Morgan make an appearance in the Tribe’s outfield this season. If for nothing more, I would love to see “Tony Plush” giving a post game interview in a Cleveland uniform.
(* slash lines measure a player’s On Base % / Slugging % and their On Base + Slugging %)