Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Elijah Dukes had just three hits in 20 at-bats this spring before his release today.
[UPDATE AT 11:05 A.M.] Manager Jim Riggleman says Dukes' release was strictly a baseball decision and that there were no off-field issues. The club felt Dukes would not provide the kind of production needed from an everyday right fielder and that he wouldn't benefit from either coming off the bench or playing every day at Class AAA.
Riggleman said the club has several other options in right field, including Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell and Mike Morse.
[UPDATE AT 11:55 A.M.] Riggleman on Dukes: "Players now and then fall into that category of: they're regulars in the big leagues. They're not bench players. And they're not Triple-A players. They're either going to play for you in the big leagues, or they're not going to be on the team. They need to get their at-bats as a regular, rather than coming off the bench. We didn't see that as a fit for Elijah. And we didn't see the value of having him play Triple-A baseball anymore. He's played a lot of minor-league baseball. He went down there last year, and to his credit did a fine job. But it just didn't feel like that was the path to take. I don't know how much we could have got out of that this year."
[UPDATE AT 11:57 A.M.] General manager Mike Rizzo said there was no one "singular incident" that led to Dukes' release. Rizzo did say he felt the clubhouse as it's now constructed would be better. He added that while he'll always look at outside options, he's content to move forward with his in-house options in right field. Said Jermaine Dye's name has not come up in any substantive discussions.
[UPDATE AT 12:04 P.M.] Rizzo confirmed he did talk to other clubs to gauge trade interest in Dukes, but no one else was interested.
[UPDATE AT 12:19 P.M.] Rizzo, on why they didn't just option Dukes to Syracuse: "We thought that he's a major-league player. We didn't feel it would help his development to send him down to the minor leagues. We thought that it was best for him to get a fresh start with a different organization and for us to move forward."
[UPDATE AT 12:22 P.M.] Rizzo's answer when asked if anything happened off the field to precipitate this move: "There was no singular incident that caused us to release Elijah Dukes. It was a performance-based decision. There are things that happen in the clubhouse on the periphery that are clubhouse matters." Asked about the effect on the clubhouse, he replied: "The ballclub we have now will be a more-cohesive, united group. I think the chemistry will continue to be great. We think we're going to be a better ballclub moving forward."
[UPDATE AT 12:25 P.M.] Rizzo was asked about Dukes' offseason and whether he reported to spring training having done enough to get himself ready. He played briefly in the Dominican Winter League but spent most of the offseason at home in Tampa following his father's death. Rizzo: "I think the Major League Baseball player, at this point in his career, needs to take his own career in his own hands. He needs to prepare for the season the way he needs to, to perform so when the bell rings, he's into spring training and the regular season. The Dominican League was a way to get him extra at-bats, so we felt we got him extra at-bats. When he left, he decided in his mind he was prepared by his own standards."
[UPDATE AT 12:27 P.M.] Justin Maxwell, on the potential opportunity he now has to be the right fielder: "Any time you get to play is an opportunity. That's the way you got to look at it. Any time you get to put on this uniform, you try to make the most of it. Any time. I know it's definitely an opportunity."
[UPDATE AT 12:37 P.M.] For those interested in following today's game against the Astros, the gameday thread is now up. Feel free to continue discussing the Dukes news here. Also check back later today -- I'll have a more-detailed analysis of today's surprising move.