I knew that Jim Duquette and Seth Everett of Sirius/XM's Power Alley had been broadcasting live from Space Coast Stadium, the Washington Nationals' Spring home, all day on Monday, so when I saw a retweeted message from Mr. Duquette, the former Mets and Orioles' executive, which quoted a generic, "Nats player in clubhouse today," who said, "...a cloud was lifted in here after [DC GM Mike] Rizzo released [Elijah] Dukes," I went searching through the recording of the three hour program I'd made to see if Mr. Duquette had expanded on what the anonymous Nationals' player said about Elijah Dukes, the 25-year-old outfielder the Nationals released last week, and it ended being part of a discussion of Washington's right field situation since Dukes' departure:
Seth Everett: Willie Harris is projected as the right fielder now that Elijah Dukes is no longer there, is Harris a band aid or is that someone they think they can build around? Does that mean he's going to play the position on a regular basis? I know Justin Maxwell's there, there's also talk about Willie Harris playing second base with Mike Morse, all kinds of options for the Nationals, what about Willie Harris and whether or not he can become an everyday player?
Jim Duquette: No, I don't see him being an everyday player, he's a solid guy that you can get at bats in a couple different positions, but if he's your starting right fielder and he plays 140 games then that's not a good sign and you're not going to be winning a lot of games in that way. So I think he's the short-term solution after they released Dukes...The one thing that I'll say, a couple players, off the record of course, they weren't willing to say it on the record, but off the record said when Dukes was released, 'Hey listen, there's a little bit of a cloud lifted when he was released,' and again, I've been in that situation, Mike Rizzo did a nice job, it's not an easy call, and the manager a lot of times says, 'I can manage this guy, I can manage this personnel don't worry about it..."
Seth Everett: "Right, because you're being evaluated at the same time..."
Jim Duquette: "Sure, sure, but I think Mike Rizzo did the right thing. Whether he would say it publically or not, Elijah Dukes has been an issue, been a problem in the clubhouse, he's just not a happy guy, not a guy that you want to have around your team on a long-term basis, even for this season, so you send a message, number one. Number two, you cleared up a huge potential headache for your manager in a clubhouse with the young players, you don't want him rubbing off on any of your young players, so, I'd take Willie Harris in right field every day if it meant getting rid of a problem in the clubhouse. Any day, and to me it was the old, 'addition by subtraction', Seth. You know, Frank Cashen used to say that to me when I was coming up as an executive, many times, you can improve your ballclub by getting rid of a player, and I think that's what the Nats did there."
Seth Everett: "How much control do you think Riggleman has on this ballclub as opposed to when he first took over for Manny Acta? He has the 'interim' tag off of him and it seems like Riggleman's part of what they're trying to build here in Washington?"
Jim Duquette: "Well yeah, and you know what, he said that a little bit there as well, when we were talking at the break, his involvement in this ballclub, he certainly has a good relationship with Mike Rizzo, but in terms of his involvement in the development of young players, which again is going to be important, he's got the right mentality, he's similar in that regard to Dave Tremblay with the Orioles, except he has more experience than Dave did when he came up as a manager. He has the patience to handle young players and young pitchers and he has the development background, and that's very helpful when you're introducing young player after young player as a GM, you like to feel comfortable that you can call a guy up if you think he's ready and not have the manager just bury him at the major league level, where he's going to struggle and you end up having to send him down and the move looks bad."
• RF In DC?
MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote on Sunday, in a blog post entitled, "Harris to be Opening Day starter; Bernie in outfield mix", that the Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman had said, "...if the regular season started Sunday, Willie Harris would be the Opening Day right fielder against the Phillies," though, Mr. Ladson continued later in the article:
"Just because Harris is the Opening Day right fielder, does not mean he will be play that position on a regular basis.
"The club is already talking about a platoon between Harris and Justin Maxwell. If that doesn't work, the second option is platooning Harris with Mike Morse."
Or...possibly Roger Bernadina, or as Mr. Ladson speculated, "Don't rule out general manager Mike Rizzo trying to acquire a right fielder. Jermaine Dye is still a free agent." Monday, Mr. Ladson added outfielder Willy Taveras' name to the potential right fielders Mr. Riggleman has to choose from, writing, in another post on the RF situation entitled, "Nats' Taveras in mix to platoon with Harris", that, "The numbers indicate [Taveras] is in the lead to platoon with Harris because Justin Maxwell and Mike Morse have slumped badly."
MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr wrote Monday, in an article entitled, "No more waiting for Maxwell and Desmond", that he thinks, "It's looking more and more possible that Justin Maxwell and Ian Desmond will make the team this year out of spring training," and Mr. Kerr pencils Maxwell in in right field alongside Nyjer Morgan in center and Josh Willingham in left as the projected twenty-ten outfield, in spite of the fact that the 26-year-old Maxwell has hit in just 4 of 39 at bats this Spring, with a .250 OBP and a .205 SLG in 14 games, following-up on a 2009 season which saw Maxwell hit just .242 with a .344 OBP and a .396 SLG in 111 games for Triple-A Syracuse over which he collected 10 doubles, 13 HR's, 42 RBI's and 35 stolen bases, before getting called up to Washington and hitting 4 doubles and 4 HR's in 40 games with the Nationals.
Mr. Kerr points to one at bat in particular, however, as an example of how, when tested, he believes Maxwell might rise to the occasion, citing the then-25-year-old outfielder's, "...battle with Francisco Rodriguez and the Mets at the end of last year,":
"He had a double-digit pitch at-bat that would have made Dave Winfield proud. He never relented. He never backed down. He waited for Rodriguez to finally give him a pitch he could really drive..."
...and drove it over the fence for a game-winning grand slam, which Mr. Kerr notes, was the, "...the first time in 2009 the Nats had come back when trailing after 8 innings." Mr. Kerr's plan? Since the Nationals got rid of Dukes, put Maxwell in right field. Since Washington's unsure about Cristian Guzman's shoulder, and since, let's be honest, they have been unsure about Guzman himself since last season, discussing a move to second at one point last Fall, give the shortstop job to Ian Desmond, who once again has folks concerned about his defense after a few errors in the last couple game, but hit so well at Triple-A Syracuse last season and has continued to perform so well at the plate this Spring that it would seem he has little else to prove at the minor league level.
Time to sink or swim. It's one thing to send unproven commodities (at the pro level at least) like 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg or 22-year-old Drew Storen down for more work before they make their MLB debuts, but for players like Maxwell, who at 26-years-of-age is pushing at the boundaries of what's encompassed in the term follows "prospect", Roger Bernadina, who's going to turn 26 in June, and Mike Morse, who turned 28 yesterday with just 139 major league games under his belt, it's got to be time to find out whether or not they can produce in Washington, and whether or not they're going to be part of the competitive teams the Nats' brass plans on fielding within the next few seasons. But, just as importantly, as Mr. Kerr notes:
"Keeping Maxwell and Desmond with the big club allows guys like Mike Daniel and Danny Espinosa a chance to move up and get Triple-A experience on a full time basis."
Time to see what the players atop the Nationals' system's depth chart can do, or if they've missed their chance to make an impact and need to step aside.