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In surprising move, Washington Nationals release outfielder Elijah Dukes

Elijah Dukes in Florida with his children, from left: son Devin, 2; daughter Kaley, 4; and son Nashawn, 6.
Elijah Dukes in Florida with his children, from left: son Devin, 2; daughter Kaley, 4; and son Nashawn, 6. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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The Nationals discussed the possibility of parting ways with Dukes this winter. They "made several inquiries to many" teams, Rizzo said. "We found there was no interest in a trade for Elijah." The Nationals could have also optioned Dukes to Class AAA Syracuse, but "we didn't feel it would help his development to send him down to the minor leagues," Rizzo said.

Over the past several days, Manager Jim Riggleman said, Nationals brass discussed right field and came to a conclusion regarding Dukes: "We like some other options in right field, really," Riggleman said.

The Nationals may man right field with a group of players that includes Maxwell, an Olney native, Bernadina, Mike Morse and Willie Harris. The Nationals believe they will get better production by platooning a combination of those players than by playing Dukes alone.

The Nationals also will consider looking outside the organization for a replacement, Rizzo said. The most attractive available free agent candidate for right field is Jermaine Dye, who spent the last five years with the Chicago White Sox.

Dye would be willing to play for the Nationals, according to a person close to the outfielder. Acquiring Dye would give the Nationals a veteran who hit 27 home runs last seasons to go with a .340 on-base percentage.

Dye also would give them a potentially valuable trade bargaining chip. Dye is typically a fast starter -- over the past five seasons, he has an .891 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) before the all-star break. If the Nationals fall out of the contention, they could use to him accrue prospects.

The Nationals had reason to act on Dukes on Wednesday. If they waited another day, they would have had to pay Dukes's entire 2010 salary. Instead, because Dukes has fewer than three seasons of major league service, they will owe him only 30 days' pay.

Still, the decision came out of nowhere for Dukes. "Everyone in Elijah's camp is surprised," Irvin said.

Team officials believed Dukes had matured this offseason. Dukes's father died of cancer in November three weeks after he was released from prison. Elijah Dukes Sr. spent 14 years in jail after pleading guilty to shooting a man. Dukes was 12 when his father went to jail. Riggleman attended Elijah Dukes Sr.'s wake in December.

"It's just a baseball decision that you have to kind of take your heart out of it and make a decision that you think is best for the ballclub," Riggleman said. "It's kind of a situation that a lot of us put our heads together, and we just feel that in a baseball sense, we're going to be a better ballclub if we go a different direction there."

Dukes never fell into legal trouble with Washington, but prior problems stuck with him. Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, the man who brought Dukes to the Nationals, referred to Dukes's "latest incident" on his Twitter account.

Nationals President Stan Kasten released a statement saying, "I know of no 'incident' as it pertains to Elijah Dukes and his unconditional release. People who are saying this don't know what they're talking about."

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