Nationals designate Justin Maxwell for assignment

With Major League Baseball approving Todd Coffey’s contract with the Nationals today, the team needed to clear another spot on its 40-man roster. And so, Justin Maxwell’s luckless run with Washington could be coming to an end.

Maxwell was designated for assignment today, coming off the 40-man roster before a season where it already looked unlikely he would be able to stick in the majors. He’s out of options, which made it even more likely he would be DFAed at some point, But he’ll be exposed to waivers now, and could have a new home sometime this week.

Things have never quite worked out for the Olney, Md., native, who the Nationals took in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. With a 6-foot-5 frame, sharp defensive instincts, a good arm and the ability to hit for power, Maxwell looked like the team’s center fielder of the future and a fixture in the Nationals’ lineup. He was playing at Single-A Potomac at the end of 2007 when, in one of former general manager Jim Bowden’s more curious moves, Maxwell was called up to the majors in September.

That put him on the 40-man roster earlier than he would have otherwise arrived there, and as his option years ticked away, Maxwell struggled to catch on. He missed most of 2008 with a broken wrist, and spent the last two seasons on a seemingly endless shuttle between Washington and Triple-A Syracuse.

He was optioned to Syracuse three times during the 2009 season, lasting only a week at a time in the majors before a September call-up. But Maxwell, who had often looked lost at the plate in the majors, hit .292 that month and delivered an enduring memory in the final home game of that season, when he hit a walk-off grand slam off Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez. And with Austin Kearns gone, he entered 2010 with a strong shot to make the roster - which turned into a chance at the starting right field job when Elijah Dukes was released.

But Maxwell struggled all spring as Roger Bernadina passed him by, and spent another year bouncing between the majors and minors. He was optioned four times in 2010, and hit just .144 in 67 games.

There are few players in the Nationals organization who are more well-liked by teammates, officials and reporters than Maxwell. He’s rarely without a smile on his face, remembers names quickly and is always happy to chat. But his swing is probably too long to play in the majors, and without a consistent run of at-bats against big league pitching, he’s never gotten the chance to adjust.

Now, his road back to the majors just got a little tougher.