The Nationals release Elijah Dukes

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11:07:  A couple of conflicting reports are emerging regarding Dukes. A few minutes ago former Nats’ GM and current XM radio host Jim Bowden said “After latest incident, credit Nats for making right decision.” No mention of what the “incident” was. Bowden can be a tremendous tool at times, but he also still has some connections in the Nats’ front office who have passed him information on the sly in the past. (UPDATE: Jim Bowden has apparently now deleted all of his tweets, so perhaps it’s best not to listen to what he has to say about Dukes. Not that we ever should have been listening anyway). 

Meanwhile, MASN’s Ben Goessling is being told by Jim Riggleman and Nats’ officials that the Dukes release is “strictly a baseball decision” and that the team “feels they can get better production from combo of others.”  With respect to off-the-field issues, someone else tells Ben that “You can dig and dig all you want. There’s nothing.”

For Dukes’ sake you hope that Goessling is correct. For the Nats’ sake you hope Bowden is. Why? Because absent any off-the-field junk, Dukes had real trade value, and the Nats just gave him away for nothing.

10:14 A.M.: MASN’s Ben Goessling tweets that he was just told that the release does not have anything to do with off-the-field issues.  Which, while perhaps comforting for Dukes’ sake and for the sake of the innocent civilians of Viera, Florida, makes this move even more bizarre.  Why don’t you send him down? Why don’t you explore a trade?

The Nats’ official Twitter feed just announced that the team has released Elijah Dukes.  No reasons given yet. We’ll obviously update when we hear something.

Quick reaction:  Dukes is a pretty decent player, and despite his history, he’s more or less been a good citizen for a year or two.  He is cheap too. If the Nats wanted to get rid of him, why wouldn’t they try to trade him?  Or send him down to the minors? Why the unconditional release? There has to be something major behind all of this.

One hates to assume but, apart from a serious off-the-field issue, what possible reason would the Nats have for releasing him unconditionally? Doing so is a statement that he has no value, and the only thing I can think of that would transform Dukes from a moderately valuable commodity to zero value is an incident of some sort.

Also: does this open up a spot for Ian Desmond? Can he play right? Can Cristian Guzman?

Report: Red Sox sign J.D. Martinez

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Update (5:16 PM ET): ESPN’s Pedro Gomez is reporting that the deal is final.

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Red Sox and outfielder J.D. Martinez are close to a deal. He takes care to note that the deal is not done yet and the details are not known yet.

Martinez, 30, entered the offseason as the top free agent hitter. Last season, between the Tigers and Diamondbacks, he hit a lusty .303/.376/.690 with 45 home runs and 104 RBI in 489 plate appearances. He missed the first 33 games of the season with a sprained right foot; one wonders what his numbers might’ve been like if he hadn’t been injured.

The Red Sox were the team most strongly linked to Martinez throughout the offseason, despite the relatively slow-moving market. Martinez said he wants to play in the outfield and the Red Sox are currently spoken for at all three positions with Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts. Hanley Ramirez is also penciled in at DH. Should the Martinez deal become official, the Red Sox may try to trade Bradley and move Benintendi to center field. If Martinez is willing to concede his outfield wishes, the Red Sox could slot him in at DH and move Ramirez to first base.

The AL East is shaping up to be a familiar two-horse race between the Red Sox and Yankees. The addition of Martinez, in a way, answers the Yankees’ addition of Giancarlo Stanton.