Earlier today the Nationals announced that they have unconditionally released Elijah Dukes. Instantly speculation arouse as to whether the release was due to an another off-field incident, but the Nats told Ben Goessling that it was “strictly a baseball decision” and news of no such incident has emerged. Still you have to think that Dukes’s history of off-the-field issues played some part in the release. Eitherway it looks like the Nationals will go with some combination of Justin Maxwell, Mike Morse and Willie Harris in right. And, because of his defensive abilities, Harris probably does not represent much of a downgrade from Dukes, so the move will most likely not have much affect on the team’s outlook for 2010.
Dukes came over to Washington before the 2008 season and went gangbusters. He was worth nearly three wins in just over 300 PAs by hitting a 135 RC+ with good defense in right. But in 2009 everything fell apart: his walk numbers dipped (but were still good), his power fell off and his defense took a hit. As a result he played below replacement level.
At just 25, and with his minor league numbers and good 2008, it entirely possible that 2009 was just a hiccup and that Dukes could be on his way to a solid career as a Major League outfielder. So it is surprising that the Nationals, who are definitely not in win-it-now mode, do not take more of a chance on Dukes. Plus in spite of his poor 2009 and history of off-the-field problems Dukes would seem have at least some trade value, but Ben Goessling tweeted that Rizzo could not find any takers on for a potential Dukes trade.
The release is another twist in the career of a guy who has worlds of ability, and lately, at least, had seemed to be keeping himself out of trouble. Still he will most likely not be out of a job for long as his youth, cheapness and potential are just too much to be passed up all 29 other teams.