Friday, March 19, 2010

A Bronx Tale For Dukes?

Good morning Fackers. Just two weeks and two days until Opening Night. Spring Training is starting to wind down. The guys with the defensive end numbers are getting shipped off to minor league camp; the regulars are sticking around a little longer in the games; Joe Girardi has said that results are starting to matter, and The Most Important Fifth Starter Competition In The History Of Mankind could be decided as early as Sunday.

As we've mentioned a few other times this Spring, aside from that fifth starter spot there are really just two competitions in camp: the utility infielder spot and the fifth outfielder spot. The former is being fought out amongst four young infielders on the Yankees' forty man roster while the latter is being contested between Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann and non-roster invitee Marcus Thames.

On Wednesday, an interesting wrinkle emerged in the fifth outfielder spot storyline, as the Washington Nationals released Elijah Dukes. Before I could dig myself out from under a mountain of work or tear myself away from a plate of corned beef, our friends at RAB, TYU*, BBD, and the Yankeeist all asked the obvious question for us Yankee fans: should the Yankees consider Dukes?

*Bonus points to TYU for the outstanding Dukes of Hazzard reference.

Rather than cover the same ground that our esteemed colleagues have already touched upon, allow me to give a brief overview like the one Rob Neyer did:
Dukes will turn just 26 this year; is cost controlled; has an option left; is immensely talented; is capable of playing all three outfield positions; is the type of right handed bat the Yankees are seeking for a reserve outfield role, and turned in an outstanding half season for Washington in 2008.

His off the field problems have been well-documented; is quite possibly bat-shit crazy; has been dumped by two talent-poor teams over the past 27 months; had a poor 2009, and outside of his 2008 season has been rather unremarkable over the course of his three year Big League career.
Do the assets outweigh the liabilities? I don't know. My gut feeling is that the potential upside for Dukes is not worth the risk involved. Between the lines, he appears to be a more compelling option than both Hoffmann and Thames, not to mention Randy Winn and potentially even Brett Gardner. But should the Yankees be willing to take on Dukes and his baggage to fill what amounts to the 24th or 25th spot on the roster?

And why should we assume that Dukes, who has seemingly reached the make or break point of his career before his twenty sixth birthday, would be willing to accept a bench role with the Yankees at a time when his career appears to be on the line? For that matter, why should we assume, in spite of what the Nats are saying, that if Dukes' act had worn too thin for the Major Leagues' worst club that he would pass muster with any other club?

Whether the next chapter of Dukes' tale unfolds in the Bronx or not, situations like this always cause me to think of A Bronx Tale: the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Dukes has a load of talent, but he's running out of chances to develop and showcase it. If he ends up being remembered for what he could have been rather than what he was, it would be a very poor story indeed.

(Yes, this post was in large part a vehicle to embed a sweet black and white video of Delaney and Bonnie with Eric Clapton. You can see a more complete version, featuring Traffic's Dave Mason and Derek and the Dominoes' Bobby Whitlock, here. And of course I'd be remiss if I also didn't include a link to the Black Crowes' version as well.)

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