Last week it was reported that the Rays may be close to agreeing on a deal to send Elijah Dukes to the Nationals. Despite an anonymous insider’s assertion that the chances of a deal happening are at 60-70%, we now think the chances of a deal occurring anytime in the next couple of months are slim.
That same source indicated that the Nationals would not be willing to trade “anything of significance” to the Rays for the troubled prospect. The Rays, despite Dukes’ past, believe he is worth at least a top-level pitching prospect. At this point, lines in the sand have been drawn and neither side has any incentive to move from their positions.
From the Rays’ perspective, they are trading a player that can immediately step in and be an everyday major league center fielder with all-star potential. And while they know they will not get full value in return they expect something close. The reason being is that the Rays are not in a situation where they have to trade Dukes. He is currently on the inactive list, which means he is not drawing a paycheck, nor is he taking up a spot on the 40-man roster. So there is absolutely zero cost to the team to keep him exactly where he is. Because of that, there is no reason for the Rays to trade the talented outfielder for a mid-level prospect that may someday make a major league roster.
From the Nationals’ point of view, Dukes’ past and the public backlash that is sure to follow cannot be ignored as part of the package. But more importantly, the Nationals know that at this point they are the only obvious trade partner for the Rays. With Spring Training still three months away, the Nationals are in no hurry to make a deal happen and feel no pressure to up the price.
In the end, a deal may still happen, just don’t look for it to happen anytime soon. The Rays know that their position gets stronger the closer they get to Spring Training, because their position will not be any different. In fact, their position could become stronger if other teams in need of outfielders come up dry in the free agent market and those teams move their attention to the Rays and Elijah Dukes. If the Nationals do indeed covet Dukes as their 2008 center fielder, they will be forced to up their offer and the Rays will then decide if it is enough.
A deal in which Dukes is moved to the Nationals may still have a better than 50% chance of occurring, but all indications are that the deal is far from imminent.