So what is next for Elijah Dukes? As we reported earlier this week, Dukes has been suspended indefinitely by the Devil Rays after his latest incident, pending an “investigation”. Late last week, Dukes was ejected for arguing balls-and-strikes. After the ejection, Dukes refused to leave the dugout and was subsequently suspended by the International League for 5 games. This was just the latest of many ejections and suspensions for the talented, yet fiery outfielder. It has long been said that Dukes may be one of the greatest pure athletes in all of professional baseball. A true 5-tool talent, but his intensity and competitive nature have gotten him in trouble many times in his life and in his tenure with the Devil Rays organization. We have lost count, but we believe this is the 5th suspension for Dukes in just the past two seasons…At times we have been critical of Dukes, and at other times we have defended his behavior. Now we no longer no what to think. Yes, we would like to think that not every incident was solely his fault. But there comes a point where even the strongest defenders of Dukes must admit that it can’t just be a coincidence that he is the one common factor in all of these incidents.
We have never met Mr. Dukes. And since we have never met him, we are not going to pass judgement on his personality and character in either a positive or negative way. We simply do not know and probably not many people do. We would like to think that he is just a fiery guy, that has an ultra-competitive streak and his intensity gets him in trouble sometimes. We would like to think that he is just young and does and says stupid things sometimes. Heck, we did plenty of stupid things when we were his age.
So what is the next move for Elijah Dukes? Dukes has stated that he may be “done with baseball”. That he has packed his things and he is heading home. Those comments sounded an awful lot like someone that is upset at the whole situation and there is no way to know at this point how Dukes will feel when he has a chance to reflect on everything. We would be surprised if he truly gave up on baseball. He is still young (he just turned 22) and there is the very real possibility that he may decide to return to football. He turned down a football scholarship to North Carolina State University when he signed with the Rays. It is not outside the realm of possibilities that NC State or another school would offer Dukes a scholarship to play major college football, with the hopes of reaching the NFL. The problem is, that is the longshot. He is so close to making the major leagues, that it would be silly to give up the type of money that can be made playing professional baseball. So we will have to wait and see how Dukes reacts to the results of the D-Rays “investigation” and any further disciplinary action.
So what is the next move for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays? To us, this latest suspension seemed to be a bit of an overreaction. After all the incidents and negative publicity from the prospects down at Durham, the team may have decided that they needed to get tough with this latest round of problems. We are sure that the negative publicity from the recent USA Today article only made the front office even more convinced that they needed to “crack the whip” and try to get things under control. Our best guess is that the team will reinstate Dukes sometime in the next week, when things have blown over and cooler heads have prevailed. Then it will be up to Dukes to decide if he wants to play.
Another factor to consider in all of this is roster situation that will be facing the Devil Rays in the off-season. Dukes will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft at the end of this season unless Tampa adds him to the 40-man roster. If they do not add him to the roster, it is very likely that another organization will draft Dukes and give him a roster spot on their major league team for 2007, with the hopes, that being around major league veterans, as well as an opportunity to play in the majors will bring his emotions in check. If that happens, the Rays will lose Dukes without getting anything in return. If they do protect him on the roster, they may be able to trade him for some other prospects. At this point it is difficult to gauge how much other teams would be willing to give up for Dukes, considering his talent and his history. The Rays may also decide to protect him and keep him, although that seems like the least likely scenario at this point. There does not appear to be an immediate future for him with the parent club. The 2007 lineup is likely to include Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young in the outfield with Jonny Gomes at DH. If the Rays kept Dukes and protected him on the roster, he would most likely spend 2007 at Durham with his only chance of being called up being an injury to one of the aforementioned 4 players.
Maybe the best thing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and for Elijah Dukes is to have Joe Maddon and Andrew Freidman sitdown with Dukes and have a lengthy discussion about his future. We wonder if Friedman has ever even met Elijah Dukes? Maybe if Dukes had some idea of what the organization had in store, he would be a bit more patient, and less prone to outbursts. But at this point, his future with the organization is clearly in limbo and it would be a shame to lose such a great talent because of personal issues that he may or may not have.
We are pulling for Elijah…We salivate over his potential…But we are also tired of the antics.