Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This Year's John Patterson Memorial Surprise Release Goes To ...

You shouldn’t replace a player until you know who is going to replace him. I’ll give you one guess who wrote this. Well, Bill James wrote this – more or less. The statement makes sense. It’s applicable in ways other than baseball. You shouldn’t waive a legal argument unless you’ve got another one to rely on. Is that example a little nerdy and/or esoteric for you? Okay then, you shouldn’t blow your paycheck unless you can identify another one to follow. And you shouldn’t dump your car in the river unless you’re sure that you’re getting the insurance money for it.

Maybe that last one’s not such a good example. But it’s probably bound to tie in to the legal argument example. And it might well relate to the blown paycheck example. See, all of this is relevant!

Anyway, the Nationals released Elijah Dukes today. This isn’t news by now. It probably seemed like big news when it was “first broken” – probably via Twitter, probably moments before the team’s press release announced that Dukes had been released. Not traded, but released. See. You. Later.

Aside from the obligatory (but deserved) you-dead-dawgisms, the prevailing sentiment that I’ve seen concerning the decision to release Dukes is that it’s sort of peculiar, but isn’t the type of decision that the Nats will really live to regret. This is the baseball world’s version of the harmless error doctrine. Even assuming the decision is in error (or, to use the vernacular, really f&*%ing dumb), what’s the big deal? It is no big deal, so ultimately disregard it.

As applied to Dukes, the thinking is that he's inconsistent and injury-prone, so his chances of emerging as an impact player are greatly reduced. Sure. I'd add that (as a matter of practical effect more so than logic) the chances of him reaching some level of stardom, despite his talents, were sliced down to the nub with his release today. I mean, how many future stars were outright released, full stop, at age 25? Not too many, one would suppose. Mike Rizzo insists that he tried to trade Dukes, but there were no takers. So it's not like the Nats tossed away tremendous value today.

This reasoning makes sense as a conceptual matter, but it can also teeter ever so close to the proverbial b.s. dump, effectively insulating what could actually be a pretty dumb decision, even if not a really dumb decision. I mean, who wants to see their favorite team make even pretty dumb decisions? And, on the face of it, the decision to release Dukes appears a pretty dumb decision because there's no one around right now to replace him.

Keep in mind that I'm talking about real replacements, not the stuff being put forward -- which ranges from instantaneously accelerating Justin Maxwell from "Nope, not ready yet" to "Kid, this is your Big Break!", to hauling in Jermaine Dye on a three-months-and-flip-him job, to a muddled melange of Harris, Morse, Bernadina, and Maxwell. (Whoops, can't forget Duncan, Mench, and Taveras too. This team doesn't lack for crap options!). These alternatives seem uninspired -- and that's without even dignifying the "Make Ian Desmond a Rightfielder!" stuff. For instance, meaning no disrespect to the Bench Guy With a Heart of Gold, making Mike Morse a starting corner outfielder is a pretty decent indicator that you're not serious about winning. And the Jermaine Dye idea is somehow simultaneously pointless and pie-in-the-sky. Willie Harris is the UZR demigod, we all know, but that only takes you so far. The reality is that the Nats have given up on Dukes without an adequate replacement for him.

Dukes will probably never live up to whatever star potential he had, but you don't need a lineup of eight stars to be a winning team. He was a good player, albeit injury prone, in 2008 -- and he'll probably be a good player, albeit injury prone, in future seasons. The Nats obviously tired of him, and they probably had good reason. And maybe a good enough replacement for him materializes, whether a single player or a platoon arrangement. But for now this looks like a waste.

All of this raises an inference that there really was some big incident that led to Dukes's release, but all parties (other than Jim Bowden, apparently) deny this. Maybe so. I've meandered enough at any rate. I'm sure Herr Needham has a thought or two.


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