December 3, 2007

Putting Up (With) Our Dukes

You gotta give Jim Bowden this: He is the bull terrier of GMs. Once he gets hold of a player he just will not let go. First Wily Mo Pena, then Lastings Milledge, now Rays OF Elijah Dukes. Bowden acquired Dukes from Tampa this afternoon in exchange for a player to be named later (PTBNL). [EDIT: PTBNL is Vermont LHP Glenn Gibson. Ouch, that's a little too much to pay.]

I've written a bit about Dukes before and my initial reaction to this deal can be summed up thusly. But what's done is done. Not wanting Elijah Dukes on the team will not make him go away. And this is the quintessential "something for nothing" transaction. [EDIT: Not quite nothing. Gibson has good command of all his pitches. He's a talent. I'm liking this deal a lot less.] From a purely baseball perspective, it would be irresponsible not to do this deal. Of course, acquiring Elijah Dukes isn't a purely baseball transaction. Suffice it to say Dukes' issues make Lasting Milledge's incidents seem puckish and endearing by comparison.

Dukes' travails have been well-chronicled, and I'm not going to rehash them here. To me they demonstrate a pattern of irresponsible and dangerous behavior both on and off the field. But people can change, and maybe this will be the wake-up call Dukes needs. That's a hope, not a rationalization.

His talent is undeniable. Dukes wrecked minor league pitching, hitting .293/.401!/.488 as a 22-year old in AAA and posting a career .284/.364/.484 line over 4 minor league seasons. He struggled at the plate (and other places) in 2007, slumping to .190/.318/.391 in 52 games before being suspended from the team. He's a legitimate outfield defender as well. Teamed with Milledge, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, Dukes gives the Nationals four big league outfielders under the age of twenty seven.

As an objective observer this deal is another steal for Bowden and company. [EDIT: A win, but not a mugging, and under the circumstances it should have been a mugging.] However lopsided it ends up, it's a deal that makes sense for both teams. Dukes absolutely had to have a change of scenery, he was done in Tampa Bay. And the Nationals need young talent, the kind that doesn't come cheap unless it has a "damaged goods" sticker firmly attached. So, in the abstract it's a win-win.

As a Nats fan this is the kind of deal where I just hold my nose and pray for the best, both for Elijah Dukes and for the Washington Nationals. Caveat emptor, you get what you pay for and all that.

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