Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Dukes Dilemma

It is more than a little tempting to break out a standard sports writing trope here, give it the old "what we talk about when we talk about Elijah Dukes" treatment and call it a blogging day. Hint at discrimination here, touch on the multiple chances given to other guys with much worse track records while still tsk tsking Dukes enough to not come across as an apologist.

Briefly touch on all the reasons it makes sense for a team exactly like the Blue Jays to take a chance on Dukes, what a successful rehabilitation of Dukes would mean to this team in the next two or three years. It's just as easy to point to the many, many mistakes made by the Nationals front office recently and hold this up as another example of their flawed decision-making. Rob Neyer predictably nails some of the reasons the Nationals likely cut Dukes loose:
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.
This is one time those of us in the peanut gallery just can't &mdash and likely won't ever &mdash get it right. The numbers add up, Dukes is a much better 4th or 5th outfielder option than anybody the Jays have or might have in the near future. Overall, the return on investment just isn't there.

Talent plus luck wins out no the macro scale, every single time. A more talented team almost always beats a weaker team; a good player is always preferable to a marginally talented player. But when the difference isn't that great, when the baseball return on investment only slightly surpasses the intangible value of having a no-nonsense, professional ballplayer; that isn't even a choice for most big league teams.

What kind of real value might the Jays get out of a (perceived) malcontent over 300 plate appearances? Is it worth upsetting the "us against the world" feeling in the clubhouse a rebuilding team has a chance to build? When no less than Bill James goes on Geoff Baker's dog and pony show to say no less than the two-time World Series champion Red Sox spend a lot of time worrying about chemistry and clubhouse history, perhaps there is something to it. Again, I'm of the belief that talent trumps all, but when the difference between a potential problem and a cheery good times hot-footer isn't that much (less than a Win), the guy who farts on the plane is making the team each and every time.

The other side of this debate is the more insidious one, namely the tale-telling knitting circle that is any closed society like professional baseball. Once word gets out that Dukes is trouble, it's nearly impossible for him to break free of that label. The Nats paid lip service to shopping him but finding no takers, but that sounds more like union-placating white noise than anything. The only news Dukes made over the last two years was for being injured. But he did some wacky shit when he was 23 and it will follow him for as long as white people will make jokes about his menacing sentence structure.

If the Jays signed Elijah Dukes tomorrow, I'd be happy. He has a chance to be a solid major league player and he fills a need on the team. If (when) they don't sign him, I won't be disappointed. Alex Anthopoulos and his recruiting cadre don't strike me as the type to leave any stone unturned, though this stone likely didn't turn much past Dana Brown's Dukes-weary thumb pointing down.


  1. I usually think Bad Religion is pretty ridiculous. This girl makes it work.

  2. Emily!!!!1

    I think Barry Bonds would have been worth chemistry problems. Dukes not so much. Less talent and pure evil.

  3. Agreed, infieldfly. At present I am rocking out Kyuss' Welcome to Sky Valley album though so most other music seems pretty sackless by comparison.

    Okay, so perhaps the lyrics for that song are not a good example of what I'm talking about, but the riffs sure as hell are.

  4. Drew - methinks you've got a bit of "Dukes envy."

    Dukes is an intriguing guy - but he's, as my carpenter friend would say - at least a half a bubble out of plumb. If the worse team in baseball thinks you're too big of a problem - you're too big of a problem.


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