July 1, 2009

Put Down Your Dukes

Didn't see that coming. To clear a spot for Nyjer Morgan the Nats demote Elijah Dukes to AAA Syracuse. The demotion was termed a "pure baseball decision" because Dukes is not a "finished product" and needs to play every day, which he certainly wasn't doing in DC. But wasn't that what they said about Lastings Milledge back in April? All I'm saying is I hope Elijah's lease is month-to-month.

Look, nobody who's watched Dukes play this season can argue with the assertion that he's regressed, both at the plate and in the field. After a hot start that saw him hitting 277/347/473 in mid-May Elijah got banged up, and his bat has yet to recover. A switch to CF didn't do him any favors either. Again, shades of Milledge? So yes, Dukes probably could, in theory benefit from a AAA stint to play every day and rediscover his swing. The $64,000 question is, will he?

He's been a solid citizen during his time in DC (even in the absence of Dmitri Young's "mentoring") and all we can do is hope that he takes the same approach to what is hopefully a brief reorganizational stint in the minors. Because let's face it, a team that demotes Elijah Dukes to put Josh Willingham in RF and keeps Austin Kearns on the bench still has quite a bit of dysfunction to work out. And Elijah Dukes does not need added dysfunction.

Assuming he takes it in stride, this may be the best baseball move for Dukes, but is it actually good the Nats? Even a struggling Elijah was a bat to be feared, and I doubt that seeing Kearns or Willie Harris stride to the on-deck circle imparts quite the same trepidation. So the bench is weakened. Dukes was also a more-than-capable right fielder with an imposing arm, something that cannot be said of Willingham. Nyjer Morgan was acquired to improve the Nats pitiful defense, but does sandwiching him between Dunn and Willingham negate that improvement?

Of course, Mike Rizzo has to play the cards he was given, and in Dunn and J-Will he was dealt two LF/1B/DH types, who also happen to be two of the better offensive performers on a very bad team. Getting their bats in the lineup alongside Nick Johnson was always going to be problematic. Let's hope Rizzo isn't finished dealing or reshaping the roster. This team is hard enough to root for when it's giving roster spots and ABs to the likes of Kearns and Ronnie Belliard. To paraphrase a great baseball man, "Sell low once, shame on me. Sell low twice, I won't get fooled again."

Chin up, Elijah, and come back soon.

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