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?

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉