In a somewhat surprising move, the Nationals released outfielder Elijah Dukes today. Most baseball fans are aware of Dukes' off-field troubles, so I won't go into that here.
Examining Dukes from a pure baseball perspective, he had a pretty lousy 2009, recording a .312 wOBA in 107 games for the lowly Nats. However, he had a great year in somewhat limited duty in 2008, racking up a .382 wOBA in 81 games, including 13 home runs and 50 walks. Those are tremendous numbers for a half season. Fangraphs took a brief look at Dukes' struggles in 2009, and it doesn't look like anything that couldn't be corrected by a good hitting coach.
In addition to Dukes' personal issues, his health has also been a concern in the past, and presumably both of these factors played into Mike Rizzo claiming he couldn't find a trading partner for Dukes. Even so, 25-year-old cost-controlled outfielders with upside like Dukes don't exactly grow on trees, so it seems pretty strange that the Nats of all teams would dump him for no real reason.
Here are Dukes' 2010 projected wOBAs:
If Dukes actually hit his average projection, he'd be a nice upgrade in left. For what it's worth, Gardner's average projected wOBA is .333. I won't even bother telling you what Randy Winn's, Marcus Thames' and Jamie Hoffman's are, because they're almost certainly even worse. OK, Randy Winn's is .310, which tells you everything you need to know about Randy Winn. Gardy's obviously a better fielder than Dukes, although Dukes was a 6.1 UZR outfielder in 2008, so the gap in defense may not even be as wide as perceived.
I imagine many teams will shy away from Dukes because of the personal issues, but on a numbers basis, it would seem to behoove the Yanks to take a chance on a guy like Dukes -- whose ask seems unlikely to exceed $1 million -- even if it's just to strengthen the bench.