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Impromptu Poll: Kearns or Dukes?

Howdy, folks. I have to make this short, because the clubhouse is about to open and I have to get to work. But it's highly possible Manny Acta will announce his decision today about the starting right field job. You know the pluses and minuses of the two primary candidates:

*Elijah Dukes: Younger, more pure ability, higher ceiling, better 2008 performance. But prone to off-field issues, lousy spring performance.

*Austin Kearns: Proven track record, solid defensive player, outplayed Dukes this spring. But had a terrible 2008 season. Let's also not forget this fact: He makes $8 million this season, nearly 20 times what Dukes will make.

Simple question: Who deserves the job?

More later...

By Dave Sheinin  |  April 4, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
 
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Comments

Really really tough call here...

Posted by: RickFelt | April 4, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Dukes.

Maybe play Kearns more often now, if he does well then trade him (and know you're going to have to keep most of that salary). But Dukes is the better player - if this team wants to win start Elijah.

Posted by: AnonymousSources | April 4, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Manny like Kearns, so I think he gets the nod.

Posted by: AshburnVA | April 4, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Dukes. How can you take his starting job away just because of a spring training slump? There shouldn't even be a question in Acta's mind.

Posted by: wdrm4000 | April 4, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

We can't trade Kearns; Dunn is a buddy. But we can dump Thrilledge. Problem solved! Dukes to CF!

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 4, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

... I really want ED to be a success in the bigs. But I understand the question to mean who should be the starting RF, and based on this spring, my vote goes to AK.

... just logged on this afternoon, to find Randy Johnson in the previous post. It hurts; it still hurts. As an ex-Expos fan, I still have to ask, after that infamous trade, where's Mark Langston - sometime pitcher, sometime actor - now?

Posted by: natscanreduxit | April 4, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Kearns already has the job for some reason. The better question is if he comes up with runners on and less than 2 outs should Acta just have him attempt to bunt every time to avoid the inevitable GIDP? I think that should be the poll here.

Posted by: RickFelt | April 4, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

As I've been saying for a couple of days now, "the job" is a fluid concept. Kearns has been playing much much better than Dukes this spring. Give him the majority of the starts until he cools off. Give Dukes 2-3 starts a week backing up Milledge and Kearns, and if he doesn't start to turn it around send him down to Syracuse to play every day until he does. (He does have options left, right?)

Posted by: nunof1 | April 4, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Dukes.

Posted by: VelocityAtrocity | April 4, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

>until he cools off

He's hitting .286. Don't you have to be hot to cool off? I guess it's all relative, .286 to him is like .500 to most people.

Posted by: RickFelt | April 4, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Dumping Milledge (trade) and assuming Nick goes down puts Dunn at 1B (ouch; just catch the ball) puts Josh in LF, where he belongs as a starter, and as BoBoOlsen disappoints in June (duh) sort of justifies the Boni trade (but not entirely).

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 4, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

dukes

Posted by: tailwagger | April 4, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Dukes. Even though more ABs for AK /might/ allow us to trade him faster, I want to win now. Dukes had a lousy spring, but he's still the better player.

Posted by: tmp2234 | April 4, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Opening day = Kearns, by a hair (deeper history, slightly better spring). 30-to-60 days from now = Dukes in either RF or CF, depending on how Milledge & Kearns perform.

Posted by: BinM | April 4, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

DUKES all the way.... Kearns is just not able to do the job and a good spring training is irrelevant

Posted by: jzslavin | April 4, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Dukes has to play. RF, CF, AAA - some place. If AK gets a few starts while Dukes works with Eckstein, I'm ok for a week or two. But do not impair Dukes's development by sticking him on the pine.

If there is no OF / 1b trade, then perhaps the only way to keep everyone fresh is to send either Milledge or Dukes down, depending on the option situation. I do not release Kearns at this point. But I do not hold out for a top 100 prospect, either.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | April 4, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Dukes. You play the future, you don't sit it.

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | April 4, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Usually a bad spring isn't a reason not to start somebody, but Dukes has struck out in 43% of his at-bats. There is no possible way he is ready to start the year.

Ideally, I'd like to see Willingham traded and have the ratios go like this:
1B: Johnson-80% of starts, Dunn-20% of starts
LF: Dunn-70% of starts, Kearns-25% of starts, Harris-5% of starts
CF: Milledge-70% of starts, Dukes-15% of starts, Harris-15% of starts
RF: Dukes-60% of starts, Kearns-40% of starts

Posted by: iishoagie07 | April 4, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"I guess it's all relative, .286 to him is like .500 to most people."

Most people such as Dukes, yes. What is Dukes hitting this spring, low .200s with a K every other AB? Next to that, Kearns looks damn good right now.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 4, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Kearns, now. Dukes when he can hit better than Kearns..

Posted by: natbisquit | April 4, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

@jca:

I'm with you on your observations - I'd almost rather see Milledge go down to SYR at this point, as Dunn / Dukes / Kearns / Willingham & Harris looks better overall than the current alignment (Dunn / Willingham / Milledge / Dukes / Kearns.

Addition by subtraction, in a way.

Posted by: BinM | April 4, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

You need both. I would start off with Kearns since he is starting off hot.

I agree that trading Willingham for pitching help makes sense.

Finally I don't know what Boz is thinking? Its like the guy doesn't watch baseball or he is confusing the Redskins with the Nationals.

Johnson represents solid left handed hitting. Something the Nationals really lack.

I'm not even sure Dunn is a natural left handed hitter since he throws right handed. Someone ought to help him experiment with becoming a switch hitter it might improve his batting average.

They keep Bard who is a switch hitter. They have Guzman a switch hitter.

But really, the only true left handed hitter in the lineup may be Johnson.

They still need more left handed hitting as well as pitching help.

Posted by: periculum | April 4, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Tough decision but a good problem to have! Dukes was striking out a lot in spring training. Kearns was playing the way we hoped he would 3 years ago. I'm rooting for both of them. My prediction is that a trade will go down soon and it'll be Willingham. Kearns will end up being trade bait/utility when Dukes gets back his mojo.

Posted by: nattydread1 | April 4, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand how Dukes' starting position is up for competition, but Millege isn't. Dukes would make a better CF than Millege, he's a better hitter, a smarter base-runner...why is it that Millege gets handed the job despite poor performance last year and a slow spring?

To answer the poll question: Dukes. Somewhere, even if that's center field.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | April 4, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

"Dukes would make a better CF than Millege, he's a better hitter, a smarter base-runner...why is it that Millege gets handed the job despite poor performance last year and a slow spring?"

Dukes is losing the competition with Milledge this year just as much as he is losing the competition with Kearns. Okay, maybe not just as much, because Milledge isn't doing all that well himself. But he's still doing better than Dukes. Dukes REALLY needs to turn it around.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 4, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Put me in the need 'em both camp. I hate to admit it, but go with Kearns now. When he inevitably sinks to .210, insert Dukes. But just hope all the free time and benching has not messed with his infamous psyche. By then, Nick (Sr.) figures to have gone down with some day-to-day injury that will sideline him three months. Then, I guess it's time to move Dick Stuart -- er, Adam Dunn -- to 1B, and then it's an outfield from left to right of Willingham, Thrilledge and Dukes.

Again, this is no perfect solution. But when you put together a roster like JimBo did in the wake of 15 bourbons, this is what you get. A hodge-podge.

Good luck, Manny. You're going to need it.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | April 4, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I think at this stage in their careers you go with Dukes. Kearns is a veteran who will have a better chance adjusting to not starting every day.

Posted by: Section505203 | April 4, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

No doubt Dukes is the better athlete but Kearns deserves to start and if it helps with a trade or helps us win then all the better. Dukes can fill in at all 3 positions and as his hitting improves he replaces Kearns. Kearns becomes an 8 million dollar utility player or hopefully traded. Would like to keep Willingham because of the 3 years left. Will be interesting to see how some of these guys handle their roles. Its a situation we have not been in and makes Manny and his managerial style a little more important. I too wonder how Milledge was given his job with no competition. Not a basher like JayBee but he really hasn't won anything this spring.

Posted by: sjm3091 | April 4, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

This will be a very difficult year for me as a fan if the Nationals play Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson - both players who won't be resigned next year - instead of Dukes and Willingham.

The only possible reason to do this would be to showcase the two players to try and trade them.

And I don't buy the whole "we have depth in the outfield and won't make a trade just for the sake of making a trade" malarkey because the Nationals knew this would happen since they made the trade with the Marlins. They should have been prepared for this.

I don't want to look backward; I want to go forward, and forward doesn't include players in their final year of their contract and who won't be resigned.

Posted by: rushfari | April 4, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

You know, I get the sense we don't know the real data that goes into this decision. Manny isn't just putting the best baseball card out there into his rotisserie league. In addition to the things we can all look up - which includes roster/option status and both last season's (and career) "real" stats and the semi-useful ones from spring training, and the chimerical concept of "potential" - Manny has to consider motivation, state of mind, team structure. Lots of those things we don't really have a good sense of - though Chico is trying to give us some insight. I try to read between the lines. Milledge and Dukes are pretty close to the same in career status, potential (ok, Dukes would seem to have a higher ceiling), even last year's and this spring's stats. But Milledge was awarded CF two weeks ago while Dukes is in the mystery land. And we've heard high-attitude quotes from Milledge, and good things about him from Manny, whereas similar quotes simply haven't shown up in the paper. And most likely it's because they haven't been warranted, not because they have been said but missed by our Post staff. That silence speaks a lot. So I think that it's likely that Manny is probably working more on the inspirational and attitudinal aspect of the game with Dukes than anything else. That implies something special is going on- some sort of message has to be sent, and that's why Kearns is starting. If the message has to be stronger, Dukes gets sent to the minors (and even if Kearns isn't doing all that great). Ask Kearns - something similar happened to him early in his career and he got sent down a couple years after he was established, although his issue wasn't attitude, it was a major performance block. Manny is trying to get Dukes to realize that his missing part is dedication, and dedication gives guys jobs - even guys with less talent and potential get the job, depending on the level of dedication. I'm hoping that the lesson will be learned; I'd be thrilled to see Dukes really try, because he's got more talent than anyone I've seen since the young Eric Davis.

Posted by: jonb5 | April 4, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

"And I don't buy the whole "we have depth in the outfield and won't make a trade just for the sake of making a trade" malarkey because the Nationals knew this would happen since they made the trade with the Marlins."

No they didn't. They made the trade w/the Marlins two months before acquiring Dunn. If they didn't have Dunn anchoring LF, having four guys plus Johnson for OF/1B would not be viewed as any kind of surplus.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 4, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

What is the point of playing Kearns? At his best, and if Dukes continues slumping for a few weeks, Kearns is worth a win or two at most? And then he's gone after this season. Play Dukes, get him in there, and if you lose a couple of extra games (you won't remember, Dukes started off 2-32, he went he .291/.412/.529 for the rest of the season) so be it. At his best, Kearns will never do that, Dukes has the potential to be better than last season. Playing Kearns over him just delays his development. I really don't see the point...

Posted by: CharlieF | April 4, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Jonb5, you're absolutely right; we don't have all the data and information that's going into this decision.

That said, I've watched for four years as the Nationals played a lineup that everyone hoped would hit, or stay healthy.

The Nationals are supposed to be good enough where we don't hang our hat on players with huge question marks tattooed on their foreheads.

I mean, we waived Shawn Hill because we were tired of waiting for him to get healthy and he's now the #5 starter for the Padres. Why are we crossing our fingers for Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns?

I love those two but it's time to move on and give someone else a chance.

My view anyway.

Posted by: rushfari | April 4, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"What is the point of playing Kearns? At his best, and if Dukes continues slumping for a few weeks, Kearns is worth a win or two at most? And then he's gone after this season."

The Front Office's responsibility is to put the best team on the field, and that 1 or 2 wins at the beginning of the year matters.

And also, if Kearns starts out hot, he can become trade bait.

Posted by: iishoagie07 | April 4, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Dukes.

Posted by: patrick15 | April 4, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Late to the party, but the answer is that Kearns belongs in right. He's not going to bat .217 again, he's going to hit .260. And if he does that, he's a plus player for us, or for somebody else by midseason (and we get prospects in return). This is no knock on Dukes' potential, and I agree that he should get substantial playing time in center. Somebody pointed out that the three-catcher thing is essentially an extension of spring training. So is the outfield glut. There's nothing wrong with needing to rotate Nick and Dunn at first, Lastings and Dukes in center, Lastings and Willingham and Dunn in left, and Kearns and Dukes in right. In fact, I think that kind of depth is exciting. But give Kearns the nod in right to start the season and through the trade deadline.

Heck, I wouldn't even mind if they re-signed him to a Dmitri contract at midseason. I'm a sucker for defense.

Which, again, is why I support giving Dukes ABs in center at the expense of Lastings.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 4, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

It is the wrong question, reminiscent of Dick Cheney-like logic. Dukes, the Nats' best hitter, needs to play, period, and since Milledge is our fourth best centerfielder, hello?

This isn't high school. Perceived "attitude" isn't the paramount reason we put guys into the lineup.

The question is whether Lastings should be the #5 or #6 outfielder. He swung at ball four today, not great for a leadoff man.

Posted by: paulkp | April 5, 2009 12:06 AM | Report abuse

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