The Nationals optioned outfielder Elijah Dukes to Class AAA Syracuse this morning, creating an open roster spot needed because of yesterday’s trade. Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, who are due to arrive at the ballpark shortly before today’s 12:10 p.m. first pitch, will take the spots previously held by Dukes and Joel Hanrahan.
The decision to send Dukes down may be a bit surprising to those who thought this might be the logical time to release Austin Kearns, but there are sound reasons for this move. Kearns, of course, makes $8 million and also has a $1 million buyout clause next season, so releasing him forces the Nats to eat a lot of money. (Then again, it’s not like he’s playing up here at all right now, so the money is wasted no matter what.)
In explaining the decision, Mike Rizzo and Manny Acta pointed out two things: 1) Dukes has options, so he could be sent down without risk of losing him altogether, and 2) He needs to play every day, whether up here or down there. Sitting on the bench in the majors doesn’t do anything for his development.
“He’s not a finished product,” Acta said. “Obviously, he was in a little bit of a slump the last month here. He needs to get down there and get his swing back. But for the most part, just work on his overall game. He’s still very young and talented, and that’s basically it. I don’t think we were going to be doing him any help by just sitting him here.”
There is one other angle to all this, of course, and that is Dukes’ non-playing issues. There are still plenty of people in the organization that don’t believe he has the right attitude to succeed up here. And that feeling was only strengthened when Dukes reported late to the ballpark this morning. Yep, players were supposed to be dressed by 10 a.m. Dukes didn’t arrive until after that, at which point he was told of his demotion.
Dukes, as is usually the case, would not speak to reporters today.