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Dukes on Nationals' radar

Dukes on Nationals' radar

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have serious interest in Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes, according to a baseball official with knowledge of the situation. Asked what the chances are of acquiring Dukes' services from a scale of 1 to 10, the source believed it was "between a 6 to a 7."

Nats general manager Jim Bowden was unavailable for comment.

Dukes, 23, is a player the Nats have coveted since the 2005 offseason. The right-handed-hitting Dukes is considered a player with a lot of upside on the field, but he comes with a lot of baggage. The St. Petersburg Times reported in May that Dukes' estranged wife filed a restraining order against him. On June 22, the Rays optioned the troubled outfielder to the Minor Leagues and placed him on the temporary inactive list. Dukes also has been suspended in the Minors for bad behavior.

Dukes finished the 2007 season hitting .190 with 10 home runs and 21 RBIs. He's currently playing for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican Winter Baseball League. Nationals third-base coach Tim Tolman is the manager of the Tigers, and the source said it was just a coincidence that Dukes was playing for Tolman.

Dukes is hitting more than .300 for Licey, and Tolman compared Dukes' power to Nationals left fielder Wily Mo Pena's. Tolman also said that Dukes, who is currently in the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday and is expected to return to the Tigers on Friday, has been a model citizen with Licey.

"His performance has been outstanding. He is one of the leaders on the team. He not only leads the team in hits and RBIs, but outfield assists," Tolman said by phone. "He's an intense competitor and he has done a fine job for us. When he leaves the ballpark, I'm not worried about him."

Because of Dukes' off-the-field problems, according to the source, the Nats are not willing to trade anything of significance to the Rays, who are looking for relievers, a defensive-oriented shortstop and a future catcher.

If they do acquire Dukes, the Nationals must have a plan in place to make sure that he's successful on the field and a solid citizen off of it, according to the source. It's believed that Nats manager Manny Acta and first baseman Dmitri Young most likely would be Dukes' mentors if the trade happens.

Acta is a patient man who has developed players for more than a decade, and Young is the leader in the Nationals' clubhouse.

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"Dukes couldn't play for an old-school manager," the source said. "Manny would be the perfect manager for him."

Dukes is currently a teammate of Young's younger brother, Delmon. Dmitri said the talented Dukes could benefit from a change of scenery and from some mentoring. Dmitri sees himself as someone who could teach a younger player the facts of life, both on and off the field. Last season, after being released by the Tigers and sentenced to probation for domestic violence, Young received a second chance by the Nationals and he flourished in his new surroundings, hitting .323 and winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Young is just an interested bystander. He can't make a deal, but he promised to make the deal work if it went through.

"I will welcome anybody who is willing to play. This team is going in the right direction," Young said. "It's all about a second chance. I was given a second chance. At the same token, Dukes deserves a second chance. From what my brother told me, he is a great kid. A change of scenery would do him good -- get him to the National League. He would get a second chance, a clean slate."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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