Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Has 'Trader Jim' Lost It? Nats GM Jim Bowden is on a roll of sorts. First he makes a trade to bring in one possible head case, with Lastings Milledge, and now he goes after Elijah Dukes, probably the most troubled, if talented player in baseball today. Dukes is the poster child for the "bad boy." His troubles are well documented in Washington Post article about the trade. By all indications, Dukes has hardly put his troubles behind him, and this was on display for the Nationals just last week. Tim Tolman, the Nats' third-base coach was managing Dukes in winter ball, when Dukes had to be restrained after being ejected from a game. Dukes left the team after the incident.

It boggles the imagination that they would so covet him, under the circumstances. Still, Tolman is playing the good company man, saying "The whole time I've had him, he handled the situation as good as -- or better than -- a lot of guys do down here."

The Nats gave up one fantastic prospect to get Dukes. Before this past season, Glenn Gibson was not as highly touted as some, despite a pedigree as a son of a former major league pitcher. Still Gibson outshone his more highly touted teammates, Colton Willems and Jordan Zimmerman, to turn in some of the best numbers in the Nats' minor league system, with the Vermont Lake Monsters of the NY-Penn League. Gibson is listed as one of Baseball America's Top 10 prospects from the short-season league. Although his ERA climbed in his final appearances, to a still excellent 3.10, Gibson had the lowest WHIP on the team, and averaged exactly one strikeout per inning.

Everyone knows Dukes is an extremely gifted athlete, but this trade looks unduly risky for a guy who hit only .190, and clearly has profound emotional problems. Dukes may have tremendous upside, given his athletic prowess, but he seems a long way from realizing his potential. Frankly, Dukes probably isn't really ready to play at the major league level, either emotionally, nor as a function of his skill level. He tried to make the jump, last year, from the Carolina League to the majors, and did not flourish. By rights, the Nats should start him out at AA, or AAA, and give him a chance to build his confidence -- but they will probably rush him by handing him the major league centerfield job.

Also, having just traded for Milledge, who is considered best as a centerfielder, it's curious that the Nats went after Dukes, who would probably lay claim to the centerfield job, if he can straighten out his personal issues, and produce at the major league level. This makes me wonder whether the Nats really want Milledge to suit up for them next season, or whether they expect to move him during this week's winter meetings.

The Post is also reporting that the Nats have traded their top relief pitching prospect, Jonathan Albaladejo, for another roll of the dice with a prospect from the Yankees, who wasn't even among the Yankees top 3 rookie pitchers last year. Tyler Clippard, however had an incredibly strong finish, including a no-hitter over the last two months of the 2006 season, for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, in 2006, hinting at great potential -- even topping Baseball America's hot sheet at the end of August that year.

In 2007, however, Clippard struggled at every level. Clippard did not turn in an impressive year with the Yankees Triple-A team, but the Yankees' rash of injuries forced him into action with the big club, where he did win three games, despite an ERA of over 6.00. When he was returned to the minors, Clippard stepped back down to Double-A Trenton, where his struggles continued. Still, the Post article suggests he will contend for the Nats' starting rotation. That's not an encouraging statement.

While it's true that the Nationals need starting pitching depth more than bullpen depth right now, Albaladejo stood out among all the Nats' prospects. In 14 innings with the major league club, during a September call-up, Albaladejo, struck out 12 batters, and had an ERA of 1.88. Those are special numbers, and I believed he had the potential to close games for the Nats, an important consideration given the constant trade rumors surrounding the current closer, Chad Cordero.

Of the players the Nats have given up in the past week, including Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Gibson, and Albaladejo, I believe the one they will miss the most over the long run is Albaladejo. That's what makes it so troubling that they Nats dealt him for a questionable prospect -- one who had a great 2006 at AA, but had a miserable eyar last year, at all levels. I cannot understand how the Nats would consider him a prospect for the rotation right away. Even if he can recapture his 2006 form, Clippard is still probably a year away from being a major league starter.

Trader Jim has sure been busy, but I wish he'd slept on these last two deals another night. These were trades that did not have to be made, and probably shouldn't have been. I woke up this morning thinking about how Bowden has done such a great job completing deals that were one-sided in favor of the Nationals. I think today, Trader Jim came back to earth.

1 comment:

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