When the Washington Nationals gave Elijah Dukes his unconditional release this morning, just about everyone's mind went to the same place. The often troubled Dukes has a torrid past, which despite reports of a recent growth in his maturity, still harbors the biggest fears in a Nationals fans heart. For a collective moment, we were all thinking, "What did Elijah do now?"
But as the dust settled, and the Twitter battles ended, it became clear that the slugger we were all rooting for had matured his behavior, just not his game. Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman told everyone who would listen that this was an on the field matter, calling it a "performance based decision." Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman went as far to say that he viewed Dukes as essentially a AAAA player, the type of guy who was too advanced for AAA, but not able to produce constantly in the majors.
While Dukes struggled in 2009 at the young age of 25, he excelled in 2008 at the age of 24. The right-fielder batted .260/.386/.478, numbers which came after he only managed to hit .167/.311/.208 in his first 20 games. Dukes finished 2008 with a wRC+ of 135, a UZR/150 of 11.6, and a WAR of 2.8. With his track record, many still projected Dukes to have a breakout year in 2010.
Despite our analytics however the Nationals felt it was better to go another way. By releasing Dukes today, they will only have to pay him 30 days pay. Had they waited until tomorrow, Dukes would have officially had three years of major league service and they would have had to award him his entire 2010 salary. The club will look to platoon in rightfield and will select from Justin Maxwell, Mike Morse, Roger Bernadina, Willy Taveras and Willie Harris.
Last night Rich Coutinho of ESPN Radio reported that the New York Mets had discussed the possibility of trading for Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman. The speculation was that the Mets may be in the market for a shortstop as a result of Jose Reyes falling ill to a thyroid condition.
However, a team official told Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News that there's "no chance" Guzman is traded to the Mets, and implied that Jose Reyes will be back. If Reyes is not able to start the season, the Mets also have the option of fixing the problem internally with 20-year-old prospect Ruben Tejada. While Tejada's bat is not considered major league ready, there are many who feel he could field the position now.