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International Free Agent Profile 2014: Nyjer Morgan

The controversial outfielder had a good season in Japan, and would be willing to return to the U.S. to play baseball. Should the Mets help "Tony Plush" with that goal?

Nyjer MOrgan makes a leaping catch
Nyjer MOrgan makes a leaping catch

There are very few self-professed "gentlemen" left in baseball, but Tony Plush, Nyjer Morgan's on-the-field baseball persona, is one of them.

Born in San Francisco in July 1980, Morgan grew up in Canada. Nyjer trail blazed the path that Bryce Harper eventually took, leaving high school early so that he could play for a professional sports team. Unlike the Nationals' wunderkind, Morgan wasn't drafted by a baseball team. Instead, he set off to Canada, to play hockey, first with the Vernon Vipers of the British Colombia Hockey League, then with the North Okanagan Knights of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, the Nelson Leafs of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, the Delta Ice Hawks of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League, and finally for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, one of the most storied junior hockey organizations in Canada.

This didn't stop teams from attempting to sign the youngster, who covered all of his bases and made sure to submit all of the necessary paperwork to MLB to be eligible to be drafted in the Rule 4 Amateur Draft. In 1998, the Colorado Rockies drafted Morgan in the 42nd round of the draft, but he declined to sign with the team as he was still pursuing his junior hockey career. He was drafted again in 2002, this time by the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the 33rd round of the draft. Having "retired" from hockey, Morgan signed with the team and began his professional baseball career.

Now a 22-year-old, Morgan was first assigned to the Williamsport Crosscutters, the Pirates' Short-A affiliate. He hit .343/.439/.399, stealing 26 bases in 43 attempts. He made the New York-Penn League All-Star Team and was ranked the 8th best prospect in the league by Baseball America.

In 2004, Morgan was promoted to the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League, the Pirates' Low-A affiliate. He hit .255/.357/.337 with them, stealing 51 bases in 71 tries, three behind league leader Michael Bourn. That winter, Morgan hurt his shoulder, which delayed his 2005 debut with the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League, the Pirates' High-A affiliate. He played 60 games that year, debuting midseason. He hit .286/.328/.357 with 24 stolen bases in 34 attempts, the 4th best in the league.

The Pirates had Morgan repeat High-A to start the 2006 season, and he hit a much more respectable .303/.390/.360 with them, stealing 38 bases in 49 attempts. Midseason, he was promoted to the Altoona Curve of the Eastern League, the Pirates' Double-A affiliate. In roughly half a season, he hit .306/.359/.393 with them, stealing 21 bases in 33 tries.

The 26-year-old started the 2007 season with the Indianapolis Indians of the International League, the Pirates Triple-A affiliate. Over roughly the first two months of the season, he hit .308/.379/.338 with 22 steals in 26 tries. In mid-May, he torn the UCL in his left thumb while sliding into second base, missing most of the season. He returned late in the year, and finished his Triple-A debut with a .305/.374/.354 batting line and 26 steals in 33 attempts. That September, he was given his first cup of coffee, and promoted to the Pirates. He received intermittent playing time, starting games as the teams leadoff hitter and coming into games late as a outfield defensive substitution. In 28 games total, Morgan hit .299/.359/.430 with 7 steals in 10 attempts.

During spring training in 2008, he fought with Nate McLouth for the Pirates' Opening Day center field position. McLouth won and got off to a torrid April, while Morgan saw little playing time and played poorly when he did. Morgan was sent back down to Indianapolis, where he hit .298/.349/.373 in 82 games, stealing 44 bases in 52 attempts. Morgan was called up for good in 2009, as he became the Pirates starting left fielder. He played well with them, hitting .277/.351/.356 with 18 steals in 28 tries, and plus defense in 71 games.

At the trade deadline, he was sent to the Washington Nationals, along with Sean Burnett, in exchange for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. He missed some time after breaking his hand in late August, but in the 49 games he did play with the Nationals, he was even better than he was with the Pirates. He hit .351/.396/.435, stole 24 bases in 31 attempts and continued to play exceptional defense in the outfield, this time in center.

Going into the 2010 season, the Nationals seemed to have their center field problem solved. Nyjer disappointed that year, however. In what would be his last season with the Nationals, the 29-year-old hit .253/.319/.314, stealing 34 bases while being caught a league-leading 17 times. His frustration at the plate spilled out onto his performance elsewhere on the field, leading to a handful of embarrassing displays of anger and frustration: after missing a catch and thinking he allowed an Adam Jones home run, Nyjer angrily threw his glove on the field in disgust and pouted, not realizing the ball had caromed back in the park and was still live; allegedly, he threw a ball not to a fan in the stands, but at them; after being hit by a pitch, he charged the mound, instigating a benches clearing brawl with the Florida Marlins that saw him get clotheslined by first baseman Gabby Sanchez.

In late March, just before the 2011 baseball season began, the Nationals traded Morgan to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Cutter Dykstra, Lenny Dykstra's son. Morgan had a good season that year, sharing outfield duties with Carlos Gomez. In 119 games with the Brew Crew that year, Nyjer hit .304/.357/.421 with 13 stolen bases in 17 tries.

He wasn't able to repeat that success in 2012. That year, the 31-year-old hit .239/.302/.308 in 122 games, with 12 stolen bases in 17 tries. His downward turn, coupled with the emergence of Carlos Gomez and newcomer Norichika Aoiki made Morgan expendable. The Brewers did not offer him a major league contract, and he refused his assignment to Nashville Sound, the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate, making him a free agent.

When few MLB teams showed interest in the controversial outfielder, he decided to take his services to Japan, inking a one-year deal worth roughly $1.5 million with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars of the NPB's Central League. He did well in Japan, hitting .301/.366/.451 with a career high 11 home runs in 100 games. He had a rough go of it in September, as he missed numerous games after suffering from gastroenteritis, fouling a ball off of his right knee, and bruising his right wrist after being hit by a pitch.

His MLB stats are as follows:

2009 28 120 533 .277 .351 .356 2 29 49 18/28
2010 29 136 577 .253 .319 .314 0 40 88 34/51
2011 30 119 429 .304 .357 .421 4 19 70 13/17
2012 31 122 322 .239 .302 .308 3 20 63 12/17

His NPB stats are as follows:

2013 32 100 396 .301 .366 .451 11 26 73 2/4

Does He Make Sense For The Mets?

If his .301/.366/.451 batting line could be directly translated to the MLB, he absolutely would. The problem is that it can't. Is the Nyjer Morgan that hits 10 home runs while batting over .300 and getting on base at a very nice clip the real Nyjer Morgan at this point in his baseball career, or is the Nyjer Morgan that hit .239/.302/.308 with the Brewers in 2012 the real Nyjer Morgan?

If Morgan is competing for a starting role on the 2014 team, I think there is a big problem. A bench role is much more preferable, but with internal options available that are younger, as least as dynamic as Morgan, and under team control for just about the same price, is looking into acquire Morgan's services really worth it?