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?

Players are waking up and getting ready to fight

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There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.

But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.

As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.

Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.

The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.

If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.