(H/T to rotorueter of McC for this bit of information)
According to a tweet from MASN’s Ben Gosseling, the Nats have released Elijah Dukes and, shockingly, it has nothing to with off-the-field issues. Dukes was expected to start the season as the right fielder for the D.C. club but now he’ll look for a new team.
Dukes’ story is pretty well known, but here’s the highlights: drafted in the 3rd round of the 2002 draft by Tampa Bay, in 6 minor leagues seasons he owns a batting line of .280/.369/.451, had off-the-field issues in 2007, was traded to the Nationals in December of ’07 for LHP Glenn Gibson, and had a breakout season in 2008 followed by a down year in 2009.
In 970 plate appearances in the majors while mostly playing right field, Dukes owns a career wOBA of .335 — making him a slightly better than league average hitter. He walks at a better than league average rate (13.3%) and hits for above-average power (.180) while striking out more than your league average hitter (23.9%). On defense, he owns a career UZR/150 of +2.8 runs in RF over 1152.1 innings. He’s played some CF in the majors, too, but profiles better in the corners.
CHONE has Dukes projected at a .354 wOBA, which if he played on the Giants, would make him the 2nd best projected hitter on the team behind Sandoval. That’s a projection of nearly 20 points better than Aubrey Huff. Dukes’ main knock, besides any off-the-field issues, is his durability. He missed a large chunk of the ’08 season with hamstring, calf, and knee problems. He had hamstring problems again in ’09. He appeared in just 81 games in ’08 and 107 games in ’09.
Even if you consider that he’s an outfielder and the Giants roster is crammed with outfielders, few represent the upside that Dukes has. He’ll be just 26-years-old next year for the 2010 season and his track record in both the minors and majors suggests that he can hit at league average — for the Giants, that would be quite the boost. The more I think about it, the more I think that it wouldn’t be all that crazy to try and sign Dukes and play him at first base. It would be an unorthodox move for the Giants, and unlikely to happen, but Dukes’ profile is much better than Huff — an already bad fielder at the position with declining offense. Of course, it’ll never happen. The Giants seem much more likely to try Bowker at first base again before ever signing someone like Dukes. The money they’ve already spent on Aubrey Huff (try reading that without tearing up) insures that he’ll play first for at least the first 2-3 months. If he struggles, we’ll he’s a veteran that knows how to play and he’ll be sure to snap out of it. If he succeeds, or appears to succeed by being “a good RBI guy“, then he’ll be cemented at the position.
“We’re extremely excited to add a player of Aubrey’s caliber,” said Sabean. “He’s a middle of the order presence, who has proven to be a top RBI producer.”
The Giants have a lot of options in the outfield, but none of them are really long-term pieces. Rowand will start in center because he’s getting paid, but the corners should be open for someone like Dukes. It’s likely that he could end up out-playing Schierholtz in RF while costing the league minimum. He doesn’t fit The Giants Way ™ or the team’s historical precedent of player acquisition, but that doesn’t mean the Giants shouldn’t kick the tires on Dukes. A team this weak on the hitting side of things just can’t afford not to pick up league average production on offense when given the opportunity.