Kicking Hope In The Groin

It’s Opening Day – meaningful MLB games return to the daily schedule, and for the next six months, we can settle in and enjoy what should be a fun season. Everyone starts out at 0-0, and while not every team has the same amount of hope, everyone has some “what if” scenario where things could break their way and they could be playing in October. It’s a day full of optimism for everyone – the teams who were bad last year offering up reasons why this year will be different.

Except in Washington, where it’s apparently more of the same. Even with the GM having resigned in disgrace and promises of a new organization going forward, the Nationals have managed to screw it up. Elijah Dukes, the best player on the team, is not in the line-up today. He’s not injured. He’s not being punished for an off the field transgression. He just had a bad spring, and Austin Kearns had a good spring, and that was enough for Manny Acta to decide that Kearns should get the first chunk of the playing time pie that will be split up amongst the crowd of outfielders the Nationals have.

Dukes had a .382 wOBA last year to go along with a UZR/150 of +13.7. In about 60% of a season’s worth of playing time, he was worth 2.9 wins to the Nationals, which put him on a +5 win pace over a full season. Five win players go to the all-star game, sign really big contracts, and become heroes to their fans.

Dukes will spend Opening Day on the bench.

I like Kearns as much as (probably more, actually) the next guy, but he’s not Elijah Dukes. He’s got some rebound potential and could be a nice role player on a team that needs a good defensive OF who can hit a bit, but he’s an expiring contract with no real future in Washington. He’s not a franchise cornerstone. He’s not even someone who will be with the organization next year.

Seriously, Washington, you have a 24-year-old coming off a .382 wOBA and a +13.7 UZR/150. I don’t care if he went 0 for 60 in spring training – you should play him whenever he’s healthy. This isn’t the kind of talent that you ask to share playing time, especially not with the likes of Kearns or Josh Willingham.

Happy Opening Day, Nationals fans. Hope you weren’t planning on seeing the team’s best player.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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