By Scout Hoffman
In what seems to me like a drastic overreaction, Lastings Milledge was sent down to AAA Syracuse. In my last article, I wrote about the logjam in the Nationals outfield, but I never would have guessed that this was the solution. Milledge was not exactly off to a hot start, and will not need a big suitcase to take his .167/0 HR/1R/1 RBI/1 SB stat line with him to Syracuse. It was not only his hitting that punched his ticket to the minors. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was not pleased with the way his center fielder was patrolling the outfield.
It is hard to believe that Milledge will spend a long time down on the farm. The Nationals are 0-7 and have been out of contention since the strike shortened season of 1994. There is really no reason to keep him down there to work on things that he could work on in the big leagues. He has always been considered to have a ton of physical talent, but has yet to put together a long stretch at the big league level. He was a prize of the Mets system for years, but was traded to the Nats in 2007 for the small price of Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.
A pre-season darling, Milledge was a 10th round fantasy pick with visions of a 20 HR/30 SB season dancing in owners heads. It is hard to cut bait on such a high pick one week into the season, but unless you are in a deep league and have the roster space, it is even harder for a guy who is not with the big club. I have always gone by the rule that you give a guy the reverse number of weeks as from where you drafted him before you cut him. (In a 20 round draft, my 20th pick gets one week to prove himself; my 19th pick gets two weeks to prove himself and so on). If we go by that formula, Milledge has another 10 weeks or so to right his ship before I would cut bait. If you have the room, stash this guy. Check your league to see if an impatient owner has already cut him, or offer a lowball trade to see if you can get this guy on the cheap.
The player who stands to benefit the most is the equally hyped and talented Elijah Dukes. He will be taking over the starting centerfielder job and will be slotted into the fifth spot behind on-base machine Adam Dunn. The new leadoff hitter has not been named. Cristian Guzman would be the logical choice, but he has a bum hamstring and may spend some time on the DL. It looks like the recently activated Anderson Hernandez is the leading candidate. I would not consider Hernandez roster worthy unless you are in a deep NL Only league.
Long and short of it: go get Dukes; hold Milledge if you have the room; don’t touch Hernandez.