Cleveland Indians Sign Nyjer Morgan Along With His Alter Egos

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Updated: January 18, 2014

The Cleveland Indians added more depth to their outfield with a guy that can be a lightning rod on the field with his high-energy play and controversial antics, as the team signed ex-Milwaukee Brewer center fielder Nyjer Morgan a.k.a. Tony Plush to a Minor League contract as a non-roster invitee to attend Cleveland’s Spring Training.

Morgan, 33, did not play in the Majors last season as his numbers took a steep drop in 2012 compared to his 2010 and 2011 stats. He most likely could have found a spot on some team’s roster in 2013, but the Yokohama DeNA Baystars of Japan’s Central League offered Morgan reportedly $1.6 million and plenty of playing time, so he took it. Morgan would go on to hit .294 with 11 home runs with the Baystars.

He was a key part of the Brewers’ 2011 postseason run as he batted second almost all year and hit .304 with a .778 OPS. But, it’s been since 2010 that he has shown his speed on the base paths. In 2009 and 2010, Morgan averaged 38 stolen bases, but only had 13 and 12 stolen bases in 2011 and 2012 respectively. So you have to wonder if that dimension to his game is ever going to return.

Morgan is a guy that is loved if he is on your team, but can be despised by other teams and fans. The reason for his many alter egos (Tony Plush, Tony Clutch, Tony Gumbo, Tony Tombstone and Tony Hush) is because he has said on multiple occasions that he sees himself as an entertainer. He doesn’t care about the traditionalist mentality of letting your play speak for you, as he only cares about playing his heart out and having fun while doing it.

He certainly is a character – something baseball doesn’t have enough of.

One example of his questionable on-field antics was in 2010 when he was with the Washington Nationals and broke one of baseball’s many unwritten rules. Morgan had a home plate collision with Florida Marlins’ catcher Brad Hayes, and instead of beating the tag with a slide, he decided to throw an elbow at Hayes which led to Hayes separating his shoulder. Morgan also was suspended seven games that year for firing a baseball at fans in the stands. There are countless other incidents involving Morgan where his antics were seen as over the line and disrespectful.

The Indians appear set in the outfield with Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and the platoon of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn, so that leaves Morgan to compete with veteran Jeff Francoeur, who was also brought in on a minor league deal. Francoeur is three years younger than Morgan and has the reputation of being a pro’s pro. In the case that the team decides that Jason Giambi doesn’t show enough in spring training to earn a roster spot, Morgan and Francoeur will have an opportunity to grab his spot on the bench.

Hopefully Morgan, now closing in on the final years of his major league career, has matured and learned that he needs to find more effective ways to channel his energy. He should have more appreciation and respect for the game after being out of the league for a year. Manager Terry Francona will let him be himself, but he also needs to know where the line is. If he can tone it down a little, his personality has shown to be infectious and keeps his teammates loose.

Since 2009, he has had one good year followed by a bad year, so according to that pattern he is due for a good year in 2014 after struggling his last year in the majors. That is obviously optimistic thinking as his days as an everyday player seem to be over, but Francona and Chris Antonetti hit on the majority of their low risk signings last year (Giambi, Scott Kazmir, Raburn and Rich Hill), so there is a good chance that one or two will work out this year too. You also never know how well players can adjust to not getting regular at-bats.

The Indians have a lot of different personalities on the team already with outspoken guys like Nick Swisher to more laid back guys like Brantley. If Morgan makes the team, you can count on adding at least five more personalities to the mix.

 

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