One day after shaking up their outfield by sending Lastings Milledge to the Pirates while bringing in Nyjer Morgan, the Nationals demoted Elijah Dukes to Triple-A this morning.
Dukes hasn't been a disaster at the plate, batting .244/.308/.415 with six homers and 20 total extra-base hits in 57 games, but he struggled in June and the Nationals are reportedly unhappy with his defense, baserunning, and overall approach.
All of which sounds an awful lot like their reasoning for selling low on Milledge, complete with not realizing that struggling in center field doesn't preclude someone from being a defensive asset in a corner spot. Milledge is now out of the picture completely and Dukes is headed to Syracuse, yet Austin Kearns sticks around despite hitting .197/.330/.322 in 58 games this season after batting .217/.311/.316 in 2008.
The difference, of course, is that Milledge and Dukes are both young players with minor-league options remaining and some value on the trade market while Kearns is a 29-year-old veteran making $8 million. So instead of writing him off as a sunk cost and giving his playing time to younger outfielders in what's destined to be another 100-loss season the Nationals are ... well, I'm not entirely sure what the Nationals are doing.
A mid-April demotion to Triple-A paved the way for Milledge being traded and if they take that path with Dukes the Nationals will have parted with two promising-yet-troubled outfielders when their values were at all-time lows. Dukes has flaws both on and off the field, but he's hit .237/.345/.435 with 29 homers, 66 total extra-base hits, and 101 walks in 190 games, is a good defensive corner outfielder, and turned 25 last week.