Like many free agents, utility infielder Eduardo Nunez is still in search of a home. And with spring training just a few short weeks away, things are beginning to heat up on the MLB hot stove. You have heard the pitches for Todd Frazier to the Yankees and J.D. Martinez to Boston, but have you stopped to consider what a guy like Nunez could offer these two contenders?
Following a trade from the Giants, Nunez spent time as the leadoff hitter in Boston, and an effective one at that. In 165 at-bats for the Red Sox in 2017, he collected 53 hits to the tune of a .321 batting average, complementing 8 homeruns and 27 RBI. Nunez proved to be the catalyst that the Red Sox offense was in desperate need of as they tried to hold off the Yankees for the division crown. With Hanley Ramirez, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. well off the pace of the offensive production they enjoyed in their 2016 campaigns, the right handed batter was the ideal complement to the surging left-sided bat of the young phenom, Rafael Devers. And with a nagging left knee injury to Dustin Pedroia, Nunez offered stability on defense as well. But the Red Sox lineup would find itself without his services when it mattered the most.
Nunez suffered a bruised knee in the second week of September in a game against the Rays. Initially, it seemed only a matter of days before he would be returning to the lineup. But Nunez reported lingering tightness, and a subsequent MRI revealed an injury worse than originally expected. Not only was the infielder dealing with a bruise, but also a mild sprain within that right knee. On September 25th, Nunez attempted to rejoin the Red Sox lineup but lasted just two innings before the knee gave out on a swing. Nunez, who helped lift his new team to the postseason, was now facing the reality that they would be pursuing the pennant without him. But he persisted, and found himself in the lineup for an all-important ALDS Game 1 matchup against Justin Verlander. Evidently the injury needed more time to heal (see video below). But it was quickly determined that he would not require surgery, and the resilient Nunez remains an intriguing free agent option.
Doctors have declared Eduardo Nunez’s right knee to be back to full heath and at least eight teams, including the Red Sox and Yankees, have been in contact with the free agent infielder. If Boston were to re-sign Nunez, they would presumably use him at second base until Dustin Pedroia returns from surgery, at which point Nunez would see time all over the diamond. The Red Sox recently held workouts for Nunez in the Dominican Republic; meanwhile Pedroia remains optimistic that he will be ready to go for Opening Day. Signing back Nunez would be a short term alternative to the more expensive, long term option of J.D. Martinez. His bat would certainly be welcomed back in Boston as they look to improve at the plate in 2018.
For the Yankees, re-acquiring Eduardo Nunez would mean bringing him back to where his Major League career began. As a rookie in the Bronx in 2011, the youngster hit .265 with 22 stolen bases and 30 RBI in 309 at-bats. He spent parts of four seasons in pinstripes before being traded to the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2014 season. Nunez would provide depth at second and third base for the promising rookies, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Andujar has just seven Major League at-bats to his name and Torres will be making his MLB debut in 2018. But the Yankees are very high on their young talent, and that includes Ronald Torreyes as well (second base). That being said, Nunez would certainly have to prove he is 100% healthy and a head above the rest to have any shot at the starting job, outright, when Opening Day rolls around. However, he would be a much cheaper option than the aforementioned Todd Frazier, or a potential blockbuster trade with the Orioles and Manny Machado (maybe next offseason).
Arguably the best middle infielder on the free agent market, Eduardo Nunez will look to pick up where he left off in 2017. Prior to the injury, we could be talking about a three or four year contract for the 30-year-old Dominican, but now that seems a bit too risky. Truth be told, 2017 was a breakout year for the career .282 hitter and his numbers are likely to regress. By my estimate (and I’m no expert) clubs will be looking to ink Nunez to a one or two year deal in the range of $5 million (per year). The Yankees still have money to spend this offseason. Per Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, the club estimates that they have about $15 million left they could spend now and still meet their payroll goals. If they can acquire Nunez for the right price, he could be the utility bat and mentor that the Yankees and their young infielders are looking for.