They were both regular starters for most of 2010, but general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke insisted there's no question about who will man center field for the Brewers in 2011. They sat down with Gomez early Sunday morning to inform him of the trade and assure him he was still the starter.
Roenicke made it plain for the media corps, too: "[Gomez] is our center fielder until something changes my mind on that. We just wanted to make it clear with him that we weren't getting a guy to replace him or that they were going to platoon or whatever. Things change in a season, but Carlos is our center fielder."
2010 Spring Training - null
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"We view [Morgan] as a little more than an extra guy, but we told Carlos to just keep doing what he's doing," Melvin said. "Every day there's a new injury, and you have to protect yourself."
Morgan, 30, batted .253 with a .319 on-base percentage and 34 stolen bases in 51 attempts in 136 games for Washington last season. Gomez, 25, batted .247 with a .298 on-base mark and was 18-for-21 in stolen-base attempts in 97 games with the Brewers.
Was Gomez upset to learn the Brewers acquired another center fielder?
"Why?" he asked back, then quickly answered, "No."
"This is not about my game," Gomez said. "There's nothing bad, because now we are a competitive team with a great lineup and great starting pitching, but if you look, we had no one to run on the bench. ... If they traded Carlos Beltran to here, I only want to do my job. I know they will give me the opportunity again. They told me, 'It's your job,' and I appreciated that."
Morgan interested Milwaukee because the club was thin behind Gomez. The Brewers traded Lorenzo Cain to the Royals last winter in the Zack Greinke deal, then traded Chris Dickerson to the Yankees on Friday for pitcher Sergio Mitre. Between those trades, the Brewers lost another center-field prospect, Logan Schafer, to a fractured right thumb that will sideline him into May.
When Nationals GM Mike Rizzo reached out to Melvin on Friday, Melvin declined because the price was too high. Over the ensuing two days, that price came down to Dykstra, a mid-level prospect who is still just 21, and enough cash for two waiver claims. Melvin sold the Nationals on the cash consideration when the sides couldn't agree on a second prospect to include in the trade.
Morgan will back up Gomez, who has missed time this spring with a stiff back, and will be used as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner.
"It makes us better," Roenicke said of the trade.
Morgan is earning $450,000 this season and on track to be eligible for arbitration next winter. He has been on the Nationals' trading block for some time because Washington expects to play Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston Jr. in center field.
Morgan told MLB.com on Friday that he didn't expect to be with the Nationals by Opening Day, a sentiment that "disappointed" manager Jim Riggleman.
The Brewers looked into the series of incidents in 2010 that put Morgan in the spotlight. In August, he drew a seven-game suspension from Major League Baseball for throwing a ball at a fan in the stands at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Morgan appealed that judgment and was absolved of wrongdoing.
A few days later, he drew the ire of the Cardinals for a collision with catcher Bryan Anderson, who appeared to be a few steps away from home plate when Morgan came screaming home. On Aug. 31, he separated Marlins catcher Brett Hayes' shoulder in another plate collision, sparking retaliation the following night. Marlins starter Chris Volsted hit Morgan with a pitch in the fourth inning, and when Volsted threw behind Morgan in the sixth, Morgan charged the mound and incited a brawl.
"We looked at it, made phone calls, did our due diligence," Melvin said. "All of the reports were that he is a good guy, an aggressive guy, and an emotional guy, but he's not a problem in the clubhouse."
Morgan's arrival meant bad news for outfielder Brandon Boggs, who was informed he will not make the team. Boggs will have to clear waivers before the Brewers attempt to assign him to Triple-A Nashville, but he's been outrighted before and would have the right to elect free agency instead. Jeremy Reed and Morgan will begin the season as the backup outfielders.
Dykstra, who will turn 22 in June, was one of Milwaukee's second-round picks during the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He tumbled down the list of top Brewers prospects during a tough '09 season during which he batted .234 for a pair of affiliates and switched from center field to the infield. He mostly appeared at third base last season at Class A Wisconsin and rebounded at the plate, batting .312 with a .416 on-base percentage in 100 games.
His father is Lenny Dykstra, the former Mets and Phillies outfielder.
"Wherever I'm at, I'm going to keep playing hard," Dykstra said. "I'm excited about it. I'm comfortable [on the infield] but I really like it and I'm going to keep working at it. I had so much more confidence last year. I was on a mission to put up those numbers. I worked at it all offseason, and then I went out and did it and that felt great."
Dykstra was likely to return to a Class A affiliate for the Brewers in 2011.
The Brewers expect Morgan to arrive in Phoenix on Monday, but probably not in time to play in split-squad games against the Padres and Royals.