We have, via official tweets from the Nationals' PR office, this from president Stan Kasten: "I know of no 'incident' as it pertains to Elijah Dukes and his unconditional release today. People who are saying this don't know what they're talking about."
Directly or indirectly, this would seem to be a swipe at Jim Bowden, who 1) referenced a "latest" incident in a tweet, then 2) deleted all three of his tweets (two of which were about Dukes).
Yes, it's all so 2010.
Let's review what we know (or think we know) about Elijah Dukes ...
* He's relatively young and definitely cheap;
* He's had some issues, particularly off the field, but has kept himself out of the news for quite some time;
* He's got immense power, though as yet he's not harnessed it with any consistency; and
* He's not a great outfielder, but good enough to play right field for most clubs.
Two more salient points: 1) Despite his off-the-field issues, he presumably has (or had) some trade value, and 2) the best candidates to replace him in the Nationals' lineup are Justin Maxwell and Roger Bernadina, with neither of them showing half the talents of Dukes.
So this can't be a "baseball decision," right?
Well, that depends on your definition. If you have the best guy in the world but he's got an 8.42 ERA and you release him, it was probably a baseball decision. If you have the worst guy in the world but he's hitting .284/.352/.487 and you release him, it probably wasn't a baseball decision.
Life's not usually so simple. If Dukes was a better player -- a better fielder, a better baserunner, maybe a few more bombs -- the Nationals probably wouldn't have released him. If Dukes was a more responsible human being -- not so many children to support, no allegations of abuse -- the Nationals probably wouldn't have released him. Shoot, if he was having a good spring (he's not, at all) the Nationals probably wouldn't have released him.
But you know what? Dukes turns 26 this summer. In roughly two seasons of plate appearances, he's been slightly better than (National League) average as a hitter, but slightly below average for a corner outfielder. His defense seems to be getting worse. His baserunning cost the Nationals roughly 10 runs last season.
My guess? Dukes got on the wrong side of someone this spring. Probably the manager. Maybe it was because he wasn't interested in making some adjustments in his game. Maybe he was becoming a "mentor" to fellow Floridian Ian Desmond, the Nationals' top (non-Strasburg) prospect. Maybe Jim Riggleman simply didn't think the marginal difference between Dukes and Maxwell was worth the hassle for a club that's not exactly kicking down the Phillies' door.
The only reasonable knock I've seen against the Nationals (in this case) is that if they didn't want Dukes, they should have traded him instead of just flat-out releasing him. But what could they have gotten for him? And how long would it have taken? My guess is that history will not look poorly upon the Nationals for this particular move.